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State lawmakers take a long look at college athletes and sports agents

Hearing at the Coliseum focuses on proposed legislation intended to toughen penalties for agents who violate state law. No one has been charged under the current legislation, which dates to 1996.

May 12, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • Former UCLA and NFL wide receiver J.J. Stokes speaks during Thursday's hearing, which focused on ways to prevent student athletes from accepting benefits from unscrupulous agents.
Former UCLA and NFL wide receiver J.J. Stokes speaks during Thursday's… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )

Less than 100 yards from the Coliseum field where Reggie Bush starred for USC, a California state senator presided over a hearing Thursday to gain information about college athletes and sports agents.

Billed as "Protecting Student Athletes from Unscrupulous Athlete Agents," the hearing took place in the Coliseum commissioners' boardroom at the peristyle end of a stadium where Bush rushed to the Heisman Trophy before becoming embroiled in an agent-related scandal that left USC with some of the most severe sanctions in college sports history.

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, USC vice president for athletic compliance David Roberts and former agent Josh Luchs were among witnesses who testified before state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Select Committee on Sports and Entertainment and sponsor of proposed legislation intended to toughen penalties for agents who violate state law.

De Leon's Senate Bill 238 has passed the Senate and is moving to the state Assembly, an aide said.

"We've created a wild, wild West," De Leon said.

California has legislation related to agents. The Miller-Ayala Athlete Agents Act was enacted in 1996. Violations are misdemeanors and are punishable by a fine of not more than $50,000, imprisonment for not more than a year in county jail, or both.

No agent, however, has ever been charged with violating the law.

De Leon's bill would require agents convicted of violating the Miller-Ayala Athlete Agents Act to "disgorge all gross revenue that they are owed or received in connection with the violation and requires the courts to suspend or revoke the business privileges of the convicted athlete agent."

Former UCLA receiver J.J. Stokes spoke first and said he never asked for or received benefits from agents when he played for the Bruins in the early 1990s, "but it was staring me in the face if I wanted it."

Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who is president of the National College Players Assn., said the "root of the problem" was the "financial arrangement that the NCAA and its colleges impose on players. " Huma proposed increasing scholarships to equal the full cost of attendance (an additional $3,000 a year on average, he said), establish a process for agents to "legitimately" sign players throughout their careers and give players access to the "nonprofessional free market" that Olympic athletes enjoy.

"Would you rather see Reggie Bush doing a Subway commercial or giving back the Heisman Trophy?" Huma said.

Luchs, who in a Sports Illustrated cover story detailed how he paid players early in his career, compared NCAA rules to Prohibition — "As long as you have 1920s Prohibition, you're going to have bootleggers," he said — and told De Leon that financial advisors, marketing agents and their representatives, or "runners," must also be held accountable.

"Everybody is a potential runner — and that includes coaches and family members and players on the team," Luchs said.

Trutanich said agents have "absolutely no fear" of being prosecuted under current state law but would be if De Leon's bill were enacted.

"If you're a sports agent," he said afterward, "understand the cavalry has mounted."

Roberts, who joined USC's administration after the NCAA sanctions were handed down last June, dealt with an agent issue last season when freshman running back Dillon Baxter accepted a ride on a golf cart from a USC student who, unbeknown to Baxter, also was a registered NFL agent. Baxter was suspended for one game.

Roberts said legislation could be "another arrow in the quiver," but added, "Until there is a situation where an agent is the subject of a major civil award or criminal conviction, it's not going to stop."

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