RALEIGH — Despite objections from former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, who has represented college athletes in litigation against the NCAA, a House Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill strengthening regulation of athlete agents.
The bill’s backers say stronger regulation is needed to protect student-athletes from being exploited by unscrupulous agents. They say some agents will provide gifts to an athlete to entice them to contract with the agent — a move could jeopardize their college playing eligibility.
Opponents argue that the proposed law is too restrictive and denies student-athletes an opportunity to get advice they may need to plan their athletic and financial futures.
The bill expands existing law to cover both current and former student athletes. It also expands the definition of an agent to include someone who serves the athlete in an advisory capacity related to finances, business pursuits, or career management decisions, unless the individual is employed by an educational institution.
Orr had qualms with the provision requiring anyone giving financial advice to an athlete to register as an agent.
“This is nothing but big-time college athletics trying to make sure the young men and women that generate hundreds of millions and billions of dollars for the industry don’t have adequate representation of their interests while they’re playing college sports,” Orr said outside the committee room before the meeting began. “This is an expansion pushed by the NCAA. And I’m fundamentally opposed to it.”
“What they want to do is keep the kids from having an agent or somebody who will look out for their best interests, not the NCAA’s best interest, not the school’s best interest, not the coach’s best interest, but the kid’s best interest,” Orr said. “It’s fundamentally wrong.”
Orr told the committee he thinks both the proposed law and the current law are unconstitutional.
Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, the sponsor of the bill, said that the proposed changes are there to help the athletes.
“[The bill] is designed to protect student-athletes at educational institutions from the unscrupulous practices of some athletic agents who seem to represent the student athlete negotiating professional sports contracts and endorsement contracts,” Davis said. “Some athlete agents engage in the practice of giving large gifts to student athletes or the student athlete’s friends or relatives in order to induce that student athlete to enter into their agency’s contracts with very unfavorable terms.”
The bill also requires all agents representing North Carolina athletes to register with the N.C. Secretary of State’s office and disclose certain information in their registration, including whether they’ve been a defendant in a civil proceeding in the past 15 years, have any unsatisfied judgments against them, or have filed for bankruptcy within the last 10 years.
It also expands the notification agents must provide to schools. It must notify schools if the agency had contract or a relationship before the athlete enrolled; is aware that violating the law that could make the athlete ineligible; and whether the agent made contact with the athlete or the athlete initiated contact with the agent.
It would stiffen criminal penalties for unregistered agents who contact an athlete, agents who provide false or misleading information to an athlete, and agents who furnish anything of value to the athlete. Under the proposed law, first-time offenders could be sentenced to felonies for those violations. Lesser sentences would apply for other violations.
Paul Pogge, associate athletic director at UNC Chapel Hill, worked with state officials developing the bill. He said the bill is designed to protect student-athletes.
“This is a problem that often goes unnoticed,” Pogge said. “Down the road, roughly 80 percent of players in the NFL will be bankrupt within three years out of the league.”
“I found Justice Orr’s remarks very helpful,” Steinburg said. “I can’t in good conscience support the bill today.”
Rogers, noting that his sister was a college athlete, said, “My distrust of the NCAA has only grown.”
Davis, countered that the bill had several steps to go before becoming law and asked the committee to approve it. The committee obliged. It will now go to the House Finance Committee.