Ask yourself how many times you’ve seen your state government -- or any government for that matter --prosecute an agent.
Many of you, perhaps all of you, have lived your lives without seeing it happen even once. Why? Because while governments have created laws to help shield college sports from agent impropriety, they have rarely enforced the legislation in a meaningful way.
You don’t need a legal background to understand that the letter of the law doesn't mean anything if nobody gets punished for breaking it.
In an era where scrutiny on agent issues is at an all-time high, the public is beginning to understand what those of us who study the athlete-agent industry have understood for years: "The law" means next-to-nothing in the agent world.
This is true because those who possess the power to reign in agent misconduct have engaged in a familiar process when confronted with truth and salacious headlines:
Deflect responsibility. Rattle saber. Move on as if nothing happened. For players' unions, it’s a reliable three-step masquerade –- a zone defense with a law degree, if you will.
And yet, the groups that have remained entirely comatose -- failing to even offer a façade of misdirection -- have been the state and federal governments.
How soft have their efforts been? According to a recent Associated Press report, 42 states have adopted the Uniform Athlete Agent Act and less than half of them have levied so much as a fine against an agent. The federal government hasn’t done so under the Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act either.
To put this in the context of your everyday life, ask yourself this: “If I could ignore the speed limit without any real possibility of being pulled over, how fast would I go?” More often than not, you’d go as fast as possible. And before long, you’d forget a speed limit even existed.
This is how some agents have treated laws meant to curb their own impropriety. With no real consequences, they are going as fast and loose as possible, sideswiping a path through college sports.
During the past seven months, the NCAA and media have conducted the most comprehensive and public investigation into agent impropriety in the history of college football. And both parties found what they were looking for.
Schools, coaches, agents, marketing reps, financial advisors, parents, boosters and others came under fire for their roles. Reports indicated players were being provided with all-expenses-paid trips to the tropics, expensive jewelry and more.
As the NCAA began holding players responsible for accepting those gifts, coaches and university administrators began deflecting responsibility. They pointed at the NFLPA, the NFLPA pointed at the states, the states pointed at agents, and agents pointed at everyone besides themselves.
And that’s when the façade went up.
North Carolina’s Secretary of State, Elaine Marshall, claimed the expertise and motivation to prosecute the agents who decimated UNC’s football program. With the information provided to her by journalists alone, she had enough evidence to subpoena her way into open-and-shut convictions of multiple agents under the UAAA.
For a fleeting moment, some of us foolishly believed she actually would.
And yet, here we are, nearly seven months later, and Marshall’s office hasn’t so much as levied a fine against the individuals responsible for UNC’s woes.
Think about that for a moment. The University of North Carolina suspended and dismissed several players, banished some individuals from contact with the program, forced one coach into a resignation, and suffered the indignity of a probing NCAA investigation. More recently, even the NFLPA chose to sanction – albeit lightly – one agent connected with the mess at UNC. Meanwhile, Elaine Marshall’s office has remained silent, cowering behind the safety of a state seal. And outside of her office window, other NFL agents are speeding up and down her collegiate freeways, unchecked and unafraid.
UNC and the NCAA have agreed that improper conduct occurred, but that wasn’t enough for Marshall. Nor were the hotel receipts, wire transfers, or full-page flow charts explicating the cast of characters in media accounts.
By virtue of her inaction, Marshall’s only message to agents and their affiliates thus far is this: Agent laws don’t exist in her state. And while Marshall’s failure isn’t the only instance of the legal system being exposed as a sham when it comes to agent regulation, it’s certainly the most glaring.
It’s a shame. While some commentators say "real criminals" are out there and those are the folks enforcers should pursue, they fail to realize potential sanctions against schools like UNC could ultimately cost the school and the state millions.
And if history is any indicator, our regulators will move on as if nothing happened.
But something did happen. Something significant. And rather than addressing the problem in a thorough fashion now to avoid these issues from occurring in the future, I suspect their process will remain essentially the same:
Deflect responsibility. Rattle saber. Move on as if nothing happened.
-- Rand Getlin covers issues at the intersection of law and sports for ThePostGame.com. He is a sports attorney and the President of Synrgy Sports Consulting.
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