Agent laws to be discussed

A committee begins work Friday reviewing ways to strengthen the law that penalizes sports agents for providing gifts to college athletes and other improper conduct.

The drafting committee to revise the Uniform Athlete Agents Act will meet for two days in Chicago to consider changes, including several in a memo backed by schools across the country as well as five NFL agents.

The proposals include broadening the law to cover more people -- from runners to financial advisers and marketers -- as well as increasing fines and strengthening agent registration requirements. Those proposals were outlined in a nine-page memo sent to the committee Oct. 10.

Committee chairman Dale G. Higer with the Uniform Law Commission said any changes to the act likely won't be ready for implementation until 2015.

Higer said the drafting committee will meet again in the spring and aims to have revisions ready for the summer meeting of the full Uniform Law Commission, which was created in 1892 to standardize state laws.

"I personally agree that a lot of work needs to be done to make it likely to be enforced and penalize agents that don't comply in a significant way," said Higer, a retired attorney from Boise, Idaho. "At the end of the day, when we get done, I hope that the provision will be such that the agents will rue the day that they violated the act."

Paul Pogge, an associate athletic director at North Carolina, co-authored the memo that drew support from schools and agents across the country. He said Friday's meeting starts a gradual process that will be "challenging to make sure this gets done right."

"I think it's a really good opportunity for us to spark some change during the legislative process because a lot of jurisdictions do give great credence to what the Uniform Law Commission produces," Pogge said. "So our thought was we need to maximize this opportunity that's in front of us and we need to provoke dialogue on what we think are the most important issues."

The names of athletics officials at 66 schools in 32 states -- including BCS conference programs like Arkansas, Florida, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Stanford -- appeared at the end of the memo in support of the proposals.

Dave Hart, the athletic director at Tennessee, isn't named in the memo but wants tougher agent laws.

"I am a strong advocate of stricter laws and parameters that better insulate student-athletes relative to the conduct of agents, financial advisers, and runners," Hart said in a statement.

The drafting committee's meetings come as prosecutor Jim Woodall pursues criminal cases in North Carolina against a Georgia-based agent and his associate, as well as a former UNC tutor for violating the state's sports agent law for providing benefits to former Tar Heels football players Robert Quinn, Greg Little and Marvin Austin -- all now in the NFL -- in 2010.

Woodall, the Orange County district attorney, has said he hopes more states pursue criminal charges against unscrupulous agents and that state agent laws should be strengthened. In North Carolina, for example, violating the law is a low-level felony that could result only in probation in some cases.

The Uniform Law Commission adopted the agents law in 2000. It has been enacted in 41 states along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though its structure and penalties can vary from state to state.

Pogge said UNC has heard from more schools who support strengthening the agent laws since sending the memo co-authored by agent Tony Agnone -- one of the five agents certified by the NFL Players Association listed in the memo to support the proposals.

"I think the important thing is it shows the support not only at the universities ... but from the agents," Pogge said. "The guys that play by the rules realize the status quo doesn't help them either, that they can really benefit from some of these changes."