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Texas Looks to Pass Toughest Sports Agent Law in U.S.

The Texas Senate passed a bill on Monday that could lead to felony convictions and up to 10 years in prison for any sports agents or "runners" who bait college athletes into signing contracts that cause them to lose their eligibility.

Currently, Texas law calls for agents who commit violations to be punished by fines, the revocation of their agent license, and the potential for a misdemeanor conviction.

Under the new bill, prospective agents would have to post a $50,000 bond with the state before signing a student-athlete to a contract. Before a student-athlete's last intercollegiate game, agents would be restricted from directly contacting or providing anything of value from anyone related to the student-athlete, among other limitations.

If the agent knowingly commits a violation of this do-not-contact rule, under the bill, he or she would be slapped with a third-degree felony. The Texas secretary of state would then notify any professional sports association that had licensed the agent about the felony conviction. The bill would also allow any institution of higher education and/or student-athlete harmed by an agent's violation to file a lawsuit against the agent.

Long story short, Texas legislators weren't exaggerating when they called it the toughest agent legislation in the United States.

The legislators pushing the bill, Rep. Harold Dutton and Sen. Royce West, say it also contains provisions that target runners (middlemen who contact athletes and their families on an agent's behalf). The bill makes it a felony for an agent to cause a person to commit an act that causes an athlete to violate any NCAA rules. West said that runners and agents sometimes go after student-athletes as early as middle school, trying to steer them toward signing with a certain agent years down the road.

"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."

The bill has been sent back to the House with minor amendments regarding what types of crimes agents must report when registering with the state. Assuming the House passes the amended bill, it will head to Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.

As I reported back in February, Arkansas also appeared en route to stiffening criminal penalties for agents who commit violations, as legislators there had introduced a bill that would raise the maximum fine for agents from $50,000 to $250,000 and make violations punishable by up to six years in jail. Since then, both the state House and Senate have passed the bill, and the governor signed it into law on March 8 of this year.

Neither the Texas nor Arkansas bills directly target agents going after middle- and high-school aged student-athletes; however, it would be naive to think that middle- and high-school sports aren't plagued by the same types of problems. Any legislative action being taken to strengthen penalties against unscrupulous sports agents will likely benefit student-athletes of all ages.

An Associated Press review from last summer found that 24 of the 42 states with sports-agent laws reported taking no disciplinary or criminal action against sports agents—the states hadn't revoked or suspended a single agent's license.

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