Unethical agents could get prison

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas lawmakers are moving to crack down on unethical sports agents and their "runners," threatening a felony conviction and up to 10 years in prison for luring college athletes into contracts and deals that cause them to lose their eligibility.

Legislators say the crackdown would give Texas the toughest sports agent law in the country.

"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.

The Senate passed a version of the bill on Monday. Only a minor difference in what agents report when registering with the state must be worked out before the bill is sent to Gov. Rick Perry to consider signing into law.

Texas and most states already have laws regulating agents and contact with athletes. Current Texas law makes a violation punishable by fines, revocation of a license and a possible misdemeanor conviction. Adding stiff prison time puts muscle into the law and would make agents think twice, said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

A review last year by The Associated Press found that most states hadn't revoked or suspended a single license or invoked penalties of any sort. Neither had the Federal Trade Commission, which was given oversight authority by Congress seven years ago. Texas was one of the few states that consistently enforced the law, assessing more than $17,000 in fines over two years.

Dutton and West say their bills also go after the so-called "runners," third-party contacts agents hire to meet with players and their families. Runners sometimes are students who live in the same building or go to the same classes as the athletes.

"The athlete doesn't know if they are talking to another student or a runner for an agent," said University of Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds. "If we can get those kinds of things stopped, it would be a benefit to the student and a benefit to the university."

West said runners and agents sometimes start eyeing athletes as early as middle school and try to steer their families into future deals.

The bills require agents to post a $50,000 bond with the state and be certified with a national professional sports association. Agents would be banned from offering or providing anything of value to the athlete or their family before the athlete completes their college eligibility.

The bill also requires individuals, not corporations, to register as agents, making sure someone is held accountable, Dutton said.

Dutton said the ban on contact does not affect situations where athletes choose to turn professional before they expire their eligibility, so long as the agent did not have improper contact before the athlete makes an official decision.

Earlier this month, Texas basketball players Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph all decided to leave college to enter the NBA draft.

Dodds, who is not allowed to specifically endorse a bill, said athletic directors across the country would support giving states more power to enforce the law.

"If we can get those kinds of things stopped, it would be a benefit to the student and a benefit to the university," Dodds said.

Last year, the NCAA hit USC with a two-year bowl ban, four years' probation, loss of scholarships and forfeits and an entire years' games for improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush dating to the Trojans' 2004 national championship season.

The NCAA said Bush received lavish gifts from sports marketers hoping to sign him. The men paid for everything from hotel stays and a rent-free home where Bush's family apparently lived, to limousine rides and clothes.