Sport agent bill aims to protect student-athletes

Maggie Hessel-Mial

College athletes should concentrate more on school and sports and less on the fear of being led astray by sports agents, policy-makers say.

Minnesota legislators have introduced a bill to regulate the relationship between sports agents and college athletes.

The legislation coheres with a nationwide trend attempting to insulate students from dishonest sports agents and preserve their best interests.

Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, and Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, have introduced bills into their respective government bodies requiring sports agents to register with the state. The legislation also gives athletes 14 days after signing to nullify their contracts.

The act would mandate the student’s school be informed of a signing agreement within 72 hours after completion.

“Athletes can be misinformed and can violate their eligibility, jeopardize their team and their participation in the sports,” Wiener said. “This will protect student athletes at all colleges and universities in the state.”

Currently, 28 states enforce the Uniform Athlete Agent Act, and Leppik said she hopes Minnesota will also.

“This would provide uniformity across the country,” Leppik said. “It sets out rules for everyone.”

Under National Collegiate Athletic Association regulations, an athlete cannot make a verbal or written agreement with an agent until the athlete is finished participating in college athletics.

To do so early would jeopardize that student’s eligibility.

One Penn State football player signed with an agent after his season but before the team’s bowl game. He was declared ineligible to play in the final game, said Frank Kara, University compliance director.

Kara said he thinks that type of problem would be deterred by the new proposal.

Agents approached Jeff Taffe, a University hockey player and junior, when he was 17. He was officially drafted at 19, after finishing his freshman year with the Gophers, but has yet to sign with representation.

Dealing with agents over the years has been a challenge, Taffe said, especially trying to weed out the ones who have his best interests in mind from the ones who don’t.

“(Agents) could promise everything and not come through,” Taffe said. “Anyone can say they’re an agent. You can’t go with the first person who says they’re an agent.”

His parents’ influence in the process of deciphering good and bad deals helped Taffe make good decisions on his future, he said.

“It helps to have people who have your best interests in mind and who can watch your back,” he said.

Taffe said he is looking forward to playing with the Phoenix Coyotes when he is done with college.

“With Phoenix, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “But to play anywhere is good enough for me.”

Some agents, such as Rob Metcalf of Imani Sports, find the proposed act frustrating for those who do play by the rules.

“I haven’t had any problems or done anything illegal, but there are agents who give other agents a bad name,” Metcalf said.

He said he must already register with the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.

“I understand the need to have consistency state-by-state,” Metcalf said. “The biggest reason every state should adopt a uniform act is so you know exactly what you’re required to do.”

The stereotype of the typical agent has been another frustrating aspect of the industry, he said.

“My experience has been that the professional, competent agents far outweigh the less than honorable,” Metcalf said.

The Senate’s bill passed through the Commerce Committee on Friday and is now headed to the Crime Prevention Committee.

Sen. William Belanger, R-Bloomington, a Commerce Committee member, said he remembered when athletes would negotiate their own contracts. Some only accepted contracts for what they thought they were worth, he said.

“It’d be nice if we could get back to that,” Belanger said.

Until that happens, legislation like this is necessary to help keep athletes informed and protected, Wiener said.

Leppik said the House bill has passed through committees quickly and with much support. The legislation must go to the Commerce Finance Committee before it hits the House floor, which she said she is confident will happen.

“There are some bad agents out there,” Leppik said. “Without regulation, (athletes) can really be in trouble.”

 

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the state Legislature and welcomes comments at [email protected]