The states' unenforced agent law

Agents have dominated this summer's college hoops conversation. That sounds more depressing than it is. On the contrary, the discussion has been welcome, as it's been spurred on by an NCAA that finally seems to making some headway -- just some -- in battling the infestation of sports agents in college athletics. This problem is at its worst in college hoops, and if the NCAA is interested in keeping college basketball even plausibly amateur, it has to continue to crack down.

There's one interesting caveat to the NCAA's pursuit of agents that we really didn't discuss until last week. It's the UAAA. Or, if you dislike awkward acronyms (which, when pronounced out loud, sound like "you-ayyyyyy"), the Uniform Athletes Agent Act. What is the UAAA? It's a formalized law on the books in 39 states that ...

... provides for the uniform registration, certification, and a mandated criminal history disclosure of sports agents seeking to represent student athletes who are or may be eligible to participate in intercollegiate sports, imposes specified contract terms on these agreements to the benefit of student athletes, and provides educational institutions with a right to notice along with a civil cause of action for damages resulting from a breach of specified duties.

That's from a more concise summary of the law. You can read the entire text here. (Why would you want to? I don't know. Slow day at work, I guess. Boredom is a mysterious fig.)

In other words, the law allows schools to sue agents who damage the university -- oftentimes financially -- by interacting with an athlete illegally. That was the impetus for NC State AD Debbie Yow's bold proclamation toward agents last week: If you mess with us, we have the law on our side, and we're going to sue. Straightforward enough, isn't it?

Ha. No, it's not. The Associated Press studied the law's enforcement and found that schools rarely, if ever, sue agents for damages. In the end, the UAAA is hardly ever utilized to punish a rogue agent. From the AP:

Twenty-four states reported taking no disciplinary or criminal action against sports agents, and were unable to determine if state or local prosecutors had pursued such cases. Others described the laws as being enforced a few times, or rarely -- an indication of what a low priority they are.

In Colorado, lawmakers in April rescinded a law passed in 2008 after just four agents registered to do business. Georgia has disbanded its Athlete Agent Regulatory Commission, transferring its duties to the secretary of state's office. Delaware plans to eliminate its agent oversight board, which has been inactive since 2002.

Pennsylvania has levied just four fines against sports agents since 2003, none greater than $1,000, and the head of the State Athletic Commission acknowledges that the law is not much of a deterrent.

There's a reason you hadn't heard of this law until last week -- no one ever enforces it.

What about North Carolina, where Yow made her public stand against agents last week? Does North Carolina do any better than the states listed above?

In North Carolina, where the NCAA is probing possible improper contacts by agents with defensive tackle Marvin Austin and receiver Greg Little, the secretary of state's office was forced to tap state workers who usually investigate securities fraud to look into possible violation of its agent laws.

The 2003 state law "came with no funding, so we have no dedicated resources," spokeswoman Liz Proctor said.

And there you have it. State governments are already facing enough trouble. Many are out of money. Some are trying to figure out which is preferable: laying off teachers, or laying off cops. Others are trying to do the math on public sector pension funds, and the math doesn't add up. The financial crisis and ensuing recession hit hard everywhere -- well, everywhere but Wall Street, which seems to be churning right along again -- but state budgets are struggling more than most.

Which is a long way of saying that of course states aren't going to be able to pursue scurrilous agents poaching amateur talent. In lean times, you wouldn't want them to. Sure -- within college sports, amateurism issues are important. But in the big scheme, there are much, much bigger fish to fry.

So, again, it's up to the NCAA, and it's up to individual institutions. Schools have to police their own athletes. The NCAA has to prove to those schools that such diligence is worth the time. The institution itself has to deter the bad guys.

The UAAA exists, and it's a nice little law, but it isn't a panacea. This is the NCAA's problem, and no one else is going to solve it. Especially not now.