Inside Compliance: Agents

On the second Wednesday of every month, a member of the Complaince staff will give a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on around its area and the department. Over the course of every month, each department will be featured at least once. Coming Monday: Communications.

Sports agents have been a pervasive part of the sports world for almost a century. The first scandals involving sports agents arose as early as the 1920s and 1930s when student-athletes still played for pay.  During the 1960s and 1970s the number of sports agents proliferated due to the monumental increase in athlete’s salaries and endorsement deals.  Since that time, as the stakes in the professional sports business have steadily increased, the supply of agents has far exceeded and outmatched the demand.

Unfortunately, this has led many agents to using underhanded tactics to represent the most desired athletes.  While there are sports agents who are of the highest quality both morally and professionally, they tend to be outweighed by those in the industry that place personal profit over the well-being of their clients.  Because dishonesty has become synonymous with sports agents, many in the industry have changed their title in an effort to dispel the negative connotations that come with the term “agent.”  Some of the common pseudonyms for sports agents are: contract advisors, financial planners, insurance brokers, consultants, etc.  The NCAA definition of an agent is any person (contract advisor, financial planner, marketing representative, runner or any staff member who is employed or associated with a firm) who represents with purpose or intent, directly or indirectly, any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics ability or reputation, or seeks to represent or gain financially.

While some sports leagues have taken steps to try to regulate the number of agents, their attempts have occasionally backfired. For example, the NFL Players Association toughened the annual test to become or remain an agent and increased the required fees.  One of the maintenance requirements of certification is that an agent must represent an active NFL client within any given three-year window.  Currently, there are approximately 1,000 certified contract advisors, but less than 50% are active.  Therefore, many unscrupulous agents will go to great lengths in order to secure a client and, consequently, maintain their certification.

The NCAA has attempted to regulate this controversial area.  In 2001, the NCAA helped establish the Uniform Athlete Agents Act (“UAAA”) in order to regulate the relationship between agents and the athletes they seek to represent.  Forty-three states have adopted the UAAA either in full or in part.  The UAAA imposes requirements on agents aimed at providing more valuable information to the student-athlete and his or her family.  For instance, under the UAAA, agents are required to use specific language to define their relationships with student-athletes, written notice must be given to the institution when a student-athlete signs an agency contract prior to the expiration of his or her eligibility, and NCAA member schools are empowered to sue agents that fail to comply with any provisions of the act.

Georgia passed its own athlete-agent statute in 1988.  Under Georgia law, the definition of an athlete agent is “an individual who enters into an agency contract with a student athlete or, directly or indirectly, recruits or solicits a student athlete to enter into an agency contract.”  Any agent who wants to work in Georgia must hold a certificate of registration from the Secretary of State; making a false, misleading or deceptive statement can be a reason to refuse a certification.  Any student-athlete who violates his or her requirements for signing an agent contract can be faced with a felony charge, including fines or even imprisonment.  One of the most important sections of Georgia’s UAAA sets forth certain terms that must be included in any agent contracts, one of the provisions being a warning to student-athletes about the consequences of signing the contract.

Jeff Hawkins, Director of Football Operations at the University of Oregon, has advanced four cardinal rules when dealing with agents to ensure the student-athlete’s eligibility is not compromised.  Similarly, Georgia State University has also adopted that philosophy.  The first is to ensure that the agent is registered with the Secretary of State (as required by Georgia’s UAAA).  The second is to ensure that the agent is registered with the Georgia State Office of Athletics Compliance, which is required prior to any contact between an agent and a Panther student-athlete.  The third is that the student-athlete must be careful to not take anything of value from the agent, including something as seemingly innocuous as a cup of coffee.  The final piece of advice is to never agree to representation, either verbally or written, while the student-athlete has eligibility remaining.  Violation of any of these rules can lead to a loss of amateur status and the student-athletes’ collegiate eligibility.

If any Georgia State student-athletes are approached by an agent or a representative of an agent, they must immediately report such contact to the Compliance office.  Student-athletes are in no way outright forbidden from communicating with agents, but under state law, Georgia State has a responsibility to ensure that such contact is consistent with the provisions of the NCAA.  For further information regarding agents and athlete representation, please contact Erik Paz, Director of Compliance, at epaz@gsu.edu or 404-413-4010.

–William Winter

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