Should Sports Agents be Subject to Felony Charges for Unethical Conduct?

Arkansas and Texas have attracted attention with legislative proposals regulating unethical sports agents.  Both states have considered proposals that would impose harsh criminal penalties upon agents who break the rules.  Under the Texas proposal, agents could be charged with felonies in connection with improper dealings with student-athletes and could be subject to a staggering 10-year prison sentence. 

Far too many times, agents have caused havoc for athletes and universities and walked away unscathed,” said Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston Democrat pushing the measure.

Is this the right solution to the problems with agents and college athletes?

I think not.  First, there are laws in place to regulate agents.  As Darren Heitner has pointed out, many states have laws on the books concerning agent regulation.  In addition, the Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act (SPARTA) provides a remedy under federal law.  (SPARTA can be enforced by the Attorney General of each state that has adopted it, but does not provide a right of action to athletes).  Second, agents are not the singular cause of athletes losing their eligibility – the athlete, and sometimes others, such as family members and coaches, must accept improper benefits for a violation to result.  Accordingly, it’s not fair to lay all of the blame at the feet of the agent.

Last but not least, these proposals simply go too far in preservation of  amateurism, which is an outdated notion at the highest level of collegiate athletics.  The NCAA’s television rights for the NCAA Basketball Tournament alone are worth $700 million.  There is nothing amateur about big-time collegiate athletics.  This doesn’t condone cheating, but felony charges and prison sentences are overly harsh punishments considering the context. 

A better solution may be to amend SPARTA to provide a private right of action for athletes, who could then seek money damages from agents that cause them to lose eligibility or negatively impact their value as athletes.

What do you think?

Comments

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