“Sports agents who cross the line while courting college players can do enormous damage to schools, to athletes, and to the integrity of college athletics. Schools can lose big, and they need a way to fight back,” Gordon said. “Federal legislation I sponsored and passed in 2004, known as SPARTA, gives schools one more weapon in their battle with rogue agents.”
Recently, the NCAA imposed sanctions on the University of Southern California after finding players had violated amateurism policies by accepting gifts from agents. In recent weeks, the NCAA has expanded its inquiries to include several SEC schools, including the University of North Carolina, the University of South Carolina, the University of Alabama and most recently the University of Georgia. Sanctioned schools may be banned from post-season play, lose scholarships and forfeit previous victories, which may amount to millions of dollars in financial losses.
The Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act of 2004 acts as a federal backstop to state laws governing sports agent activity, providing federal accountability for teams in states with weak laws and teams that go on the road out of state. Under SPARTA, the attorney general of any state, or the Federal Trade Commission, can step in and prosecute agents for ethics violations such as misleading students with false contracts.
Perhaps more importantly, SPARTA also gives schools the ability to seek civil remedies against the agent for damages or expenses incurred. Under this provision, if NCAA sanctions result in millions of dollars of damages because an agent took advantage of a player, that institution may be able to use SPARTA to help recover their losses. If current investigations lead to sanctions and financial losses, schools may turn to SPARTA to hold agents accountable.
Gordon hopes to hold a congressional hearing this fall to draw attention to the issue and discuss additional solutions.
“Agents know student athletes can lose their eligibility for accepting gifts and schools could be slapped with massive sanctions—but the agents themselves usually expect to get off scot free,” Gordon said.“When agents face consequences for breaking the rules, everyone benefits.”
Gordon introduced SPARTA in response to concerns raised by Ken Shipp, a Murfreesboro resident and former NFL coach.
Tennessee had strong agent licensing laws that kept predatory sports agents at bay, but when the state’s teams played away games in states with weak laws, there was little a school could do to hold agents accountable. SPARTA was written to give states and schools one more way of holding unscrupulous agents accountable, no matter where an infraction took place.
The bill was co-sponsored by Nebraska Congressman and former coach Tom Osborne, and it was endorsed by the NCAA and a number of college athletic directors. The bill was signed into law in 2004.