- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

After a college football season blemished by charges of rule-breaking agents and athletes, legislators from New Jersey to Oregon are looking to make it tougher on those who contact players improperly.

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Virginia _ two of the eight states that lack sports agents laws _ now want to add such legal protections. Six other states are considering proposals to strengthen the Uniform Athletes Agent Act, a model law that suffers from neglect in many states.

That includes Arkansas, where 89 House members voted unanimously on Wednesday to make violations of its agent laws _ previously a misdemeanor _ a felony offense.

Those pushing for changes on the state level aren’t waiting for either the NFL or the NCAA to act. Four months ago, the league and the sports governing body joined the NFL Players Association, the American Football Coaches Association and several prominent agents in forming a 22-member panel tasked with cleaning up the situation.

“Up to this point, we’ve had laws on the books, but there hasn’t been much interest or effort from the enforcement side,” said Oklahoma state Rep. Todd Thomsen, a Republican who was the punter and kicker on the University of Oklahoma’s 1985 national championship team.

An August 2010 review by The Associated Press found that more than half of the 42 states with sports agent laws didn’t revoke or suspend a single license, or invoke penalties of any sort. Neither had the Federal Trade Commission, which in 2004 was given oversight authority by Congress.

The proposed Oklahoma measure broadens the definition of agent to cover financial planners _ player reps who don’t negotiate contracts but still have a financial stake in a college athlete’s future earnings _ while increasing the minimum fine for violations from $1,000 to $10,000 and the maximum from $10,000 to $250,000.

“We have such a minimal penalty, for most of them it’s worth it just to do business here,” Thomsen said.

In Oregon, lawmakers are considering a proposal that also broadens the definition of sports agents to include not just financial planners but also contract advisers and those who seek to represent high school athletes.

Jeff Hawkins, director of football operations at the University of Oregon, plans to testify in support of the proposal. He’s also a member of the NCAA panel considering even broader changes.

“Enforcement really is the key to everything,” he said.

Hawkins said the panel members _ including the presidents of the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts as well as the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference commissioners _ have tentatively agreed to a broader definition of agent that applies to any person who directly or indirectly “seeks to represent or gain financially” by representing or marketing a college athlete.

That expanded definition could potentially be applied to athletes’ immediate family members, people like the father of Heisman Trophy winner and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

The NCAA determined Cecil Newton sought $180,000 from Mississippi State for his son’s commitment out of junior college. The NCAA did not punish Cam Newton for the violation his father committed because it said it found no evidence that the player or Auburn knew about Cecil Newton’s pay-for-play scheme.

The panel, which meets again next month, is also discussing a “universal recruiting calendar” that would proscribe when agents can contact potential clients on campus, similar to the NCAA’s recruiting calendar for coaches.

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