Missouri lawmakers are responding to the FBI’s probe into college basketball’s ugly underbelly.
A bill moving through the state legislature attempts to expand the legal definition of a sports agent, increasing agents’ responsibilities to notify universities of relationships with student-athletes and upping the penalty for acting unscrupulously.
Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, has attached an amendment to an omnibus higher education bill that would require individuals to provide more information when attempting to register as sports agents in Missouri. It would also require an agent to notify a college’s athletic director when either a student-athlete from that college enters into a contract with the agent or has a pre-existing relationship with the agent prior to enrollment.
Failure to follow the proposed new laws would result in a Class A misdemeanor and make the agent liable for a civil penalty of up to $50,000. Under current law, such violations classify as Class B misdemeanors, with no civil penalty.
“This bill isn’t the end all be all, but it’s a part of the bigger puzzle of what’s going on with college basketball, in particular — but also football, other sports,” Razer said.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, initiated the legislative push to change agency law. His bill has not gotten any traction in the Senate, which is why Razer has attached an amendment to a omnibus higher education bill, and the amendment unanimously passed the House higher education committee earlier this week. The House could take it up the bill as early as next week.
“We’re certainly in a fine spot,” Rowden said of the push to update the laws regulating sports agents in the state. He’s a Mizzou fan, and he believes there’s “a difference between the passion and purity of the college game, and the passion and purity of the pro game.”
“You want to see the integrity of that game continue to be what it has been,” Rowden said. “This inevitably leads to continued conversations about whether we should compensate players at a college level. … I don’t know that I have an answer or opinion about it, but I do think anything we can do to protect college sports as a great pastime for our country is something we should do.”
If the bill passes, the legal definition of a sports agent in the state would expand beyond an individual who enters into a contract with a student athletes or recruits an athlete to enter into a contract. According to Rowden’s proposed changes, agent could also be someone who — for compensation or in anticipation of compensation — advises student athletes on matters of finance, business or career management, as well as someone who “provides assistance with bills, payments, contracts, or taxes.”
“We run into people that tell us, ‘I’m not an agent,’ — but you’re still trying to make money off the athletic reputation of a student,” said Bob Nolte, an assistant director of compliance for the Mizzou athletic department.
During the summer before athletes’ senior seasons at MU, they are able to meet with agents for “permissible contact.” In order for an agency to participate in this, Nolte said an agent must be registered within the state of Missouri — even if the agency that person works for is based out of a different state.
If the proposed changes become law, the registration application for agents will become more exhaustive than the current one.
Among the new information the application will request:
- social media accounts affiliated with the applicant and the applicant’s business
- the name of each student-athlete an applicant has served as an agent for during five years preceding submission of the application
- a list of other stakeholders in an applicant’s agency who have equity of at least five percent
- other leagues and states that an applicant is currently registered with.
The bill also would require the director of the state’s Division of Professional Registration to negotiate reciprocal agreements with other states, which would streamline the process for agents to receive registration throughout the country.
If the bill passes, contracts between agents and student-athletes would have to note whether the agent was registered in the state of Missouri. The contracts would also have to list all other states the agent is registered to work within. And athletes would have to sign a separate document acknowledging that signing the contract might result in a loss of their collegiate eligibility.
After an agent and athlete enter a contract agreement, the agent would have to provide notice of the business relation to the athletic director at that athlete’s school, either within 72 hours of reaching the agreement or before the athlete’s next game — whichever comes first.
The bill would also require agents to notify an educational institution of a pre-existing relationship with a student-athlete no later than 10 days after the athlete enrolled at the school.
Razer and Rowden say that these potential changes do not fully address the issues that have come up through the FBI’s investigation.
Most payments to athletes are not finalized through formal contracts establishing a business relationship. As Yahoo Sports reported in February, the payments instead often come in the form of loans to players, parents and handlers, and the payments do not always result in the athletes actually signing with the agency when they turn professional.
“You’re not going to be able to get to all of it,” Rowden said. “I think that’s the reality of the situation. If you’ve got a corrupt underhanded agent who is hanging on 18, 19, 20 year olds who are looking for fame and fortune, you’re not going to be able to fix that problem.”
But Razer, who served as Truman the Tiger while attending MU, thinks the proposed changes would help identify “bad apples” by creating a more stringent registration process. And the harsher legal penalty, he believes, will prevent some bad actors who might currently engage in illicit behavior.
“I believe this legislation puts more tools in our pocket,” Nolte said. “... The update allows us to be out in front of who is contacting our students as much as possible.”