Laws restricting improper agent contact with NCAA athletes seen as ineffective

Former Florida offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey, selected 18th overall by the Steelers in this year's NFL draft, is being investigated.
Former Florida offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey, selected 18th overall by the Steelers in this year's NFL draft, is being investigated. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/associated Press)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

In the past decade, two laws have been created to clarify what is considered permissible contact between player agents and collegiate student-athletes and to arm individual states and educational institutions with legal means to seek recourse against violators.

However, the five NCAA investigations that have been initiated in little more than a week -- in addition to a high-profile probe involving the Southern California athletic department that concluded in June -- have brought into question how those laws are being used.

"How effective have they been?" said agent Darren Heitner, author of the Sports Agent Blog, an industry watchdog Web site. "It seems not very, at least in terms of enforcement."

Execution of the Uniform Athlete Agent Act of 2000 (UAAA) and the Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act of 2004 (SPARTA) has been limited by insufficient resources to pursue investigations at the state level and a preference by some colleges not to invite probes into their revenue-generating athletic programs, according to numerous agents and university compliance officers contacted for this story.

The UAAA was drafted by the Uniform Law Commission as a template for a bill that states could ratify individually (39 states have done so). It requires agents to register in each state that has ratified the law and provide written notice to educational institutions when they sign a student-athlete before the player's collegiate eligibility expires. The UAAA also allows for criminal, civil and administrative penalties to be sought at the state level.

Chicago-based basketball agent Mark Bartelstein said the UAAA has had mixed success, and that part of the problem is the lack of uniformity among the rules from state to state.

"Having one regulating body is really the way it should go," Bartelstein said. "Having all the states with different rules and having to register in all the different states is so cumbersome, and I think it just creates more confusion than it does in terms of stopping the problem."

Making the options clear

SPARTA, a federal law passed by Congress in 2004, prohibits agents from giving false information to a student-athlete and from providing anything of value to the player or anyone associated with the player before entering into a contract. Violations of this bill are considered deceptive practices under the Federal Trade Commission Act. The bill permits state attorneys general and educational institutions to pursue civil action against violators.

And yet, such civil action rarely is taken. According to Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), who sponsored SPARTA, Congress needs to hold hearings to determine whether the NCAA is sufficiently educating its member institutions about the rights afforded them by the law and what kind of enforcement the NCAA is using to protect the amateur status of its student-athletes.

In instances where improper contact has been made between a player agent and a student-athlete, the NCAA has the authority to discipline student-athletes and member institutions. A seven-person unit, led by NCAA director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities Rachel Newman-Baker, investigates such matters. Newman-Baker was not made available to comment, and spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the NCAA holds no jurisdiction over agents.

"We went around and around with the NCAA on this" when the bill was in its initial stages, Gordon said. "First, they weren't interested in this [bill], and then they saw it as a good tool. . . . [The NCAA] thought they could handle their own business, and later I think they determined that this was a good [idea]. In fact, we had letters of endorsement from universities all around the country. It just became an overwhelming issue with support all around the country. The college coaches really want some help."

On Wednesday, Georgia became the fifth school within a week to confirm that the NCAA was looking into the actions of a member of its athletic programs. Multiple reports have stated the probe has to do with the potential presence of a Georgia football player at a party hosted by an agent in Miami over Memorial Day weekend.

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