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Arkansas to Sports Agents: Offer Student-Athletes Improper Benefits, Face a Felony

The Arkansas House Judiciary Committee today recommended passage of a bill that would make it a felony for sports agents to offer cash or other gifts to student-athletes.

The proposed Athlete Agent Reform Act would increase the criminal penalties from a misdemeanor to a Class D felony, according to the Arkansas News. The maximum fine for offenders would balloon from $50,000 to $250,000, and could extend to a student-athlete's parents if they solicit any nonpermissible benefits. Offenders would also face up to six years in jail.

"Sports agents need to know that we in Arkansas will not tolerate them coming into our state, breaking the law, and jeopardizing the future of our student-athletes," Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said last month. "Further, we're going to make sure that our kids aren't used as pawns by their parents or others who think they can get away with selling their services to the highest bidder."

The NCAA already prohibits athletes from receiving gifts or benefits from agents or representatives of schools; any athlete that does receive improper benefits risks forfeiting his or her athletic eligibility. Once a student signs a contract with an agent, the athlete forfeits his or her remaining athletic eligibility.

The NCAA also has a rule in place to regulate the behavior of athlete agents, called the Uniform Athlete Agents Act. The UAAA, which was formally adopted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 2001, prohibits agents from giving athletes anything of value before signing a contract and requires written notice to universities if a student-athlete signs a contract before his or her eligibility expires. As of July 2010, 40 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands had adopted the UAAA, according to the NCAA. Three other states—California, Michigan, and Ohio—have their own laws on the books for regulating sports agents.

However, according to an Associated Press review from last summer, these agent-regulation laws are rarely enforced. The review 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.

Arkansas, in other words, is trying to raise the stakes for sports agents that tip-toe around the rules.

"It does, in fact, put skin in the game for those who are engaging in wrongful conduct," McDaniel told the panel. "I do not think that under the current law there's enough deterrence to effectively reach the decision-making process of somebody who may be in Miami driving a Ferrari and reaching out to young athletes all over the United States."

According to the AP, some states, such as Washington and West Virginia, already have laws in place that make it a felony for sports agents to offer financial incentives to student-athletes to persuade them to sign a contract.

The Athlete Agent Reform Act will now head to the full state House of Representatives for a vote.

UPDATE, 2/9: The Arkansas House of Representatives voted 89-0 in support of the legislation on Wednesday. The measure now heads to the state Senate, which has adjourned until Monday due to wintry weather.

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