Sports Agents, the Student-Athlete and Sparta – A Case of the Continuous Process of Problem Solving Essay

Part One – The Impact on Student-Athletes, Schools and Athletic Tournament Organization

Impact on Student Athletes

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The unethical practice of sports agents significantly impacts the student athlete in the negative way and in many ways; the resulting negative outcome from this situation is also many and varied. Firstly, it is bad enough that significant portions of the student athlete population sets their eyes on becoming professional and start earning sky high salaries that it contributes to the cases of students losing interest in finishing their college degrees. This is because of the temptation of turning pro and the temptation of money and fame; worse, these agents and their unscrupulous actions adds fuel to the fire in the hearts of the student athletes and make them desire to turn pro more and lose interest of their school more and make educational considerations less and less of a priority.

“We should not permit the entry of professional athletes and their agents into NCAA sports because the cold commercial nature of professional sports would not only destroy the amateur status of college athletics but would interfere with the athletes’ proper focus on their educational pursuits and direct their attention to the quick buck in pro sports (Pittman, Spengler, Young, 2008, p. 10).”

True to the image of the devil’s advocate, these unethical sports agents will lure student-athletes, convince them to turn pro and get them as their agents by highlighting the good side of being a professional athlete – the limelight, the press and the camera, the attention, the money, the fame, and selling them the idea of power and being able to get what they want once they become professional athlete. It is a proposition that is very difficult for student athletes to ignore or turn down especially those who believe that these offers are once-in-a-lifetime offers (Epstein, 2002, p. 7). “Agents are notorious for becoming intense, occasionally overzealous, and persistent in furthering the athlete’s interests to secure a contract with a team, event, league or sponsor (Epstein, 2002, p. 7).” Compounding the problem is the fact that many student athletes actually need the money and need the change in life. They are easily lured by the promise of a more comfortable life for the student athlete and for his family especially those student athletes who came from families who are not well to do and those who are on scholarships and can use the money that professional sports can offer.

Impacts on Universities

Every time the student-athletes are affected by the actions of sports agents, there are always resulting impact and effect on the university where the student athlete is playing for. Universities and colleges have always supported the idea on inspiring their students to finish their degree, and in the case of student athletes, to earn their degree first before going professional, in the belief that professional sports is not a long term and stable career. A sudden injury in the first month of an individual, as a professional, may be enough to end his professional career and close any possibility of returning in professional sport ever.

Of course, there are also other instances. But the point that schools are trying to make is that a college degree is still important. Every time a student does not follow this ideal path, it hurts the university because it does not only lose a student-athlete or player, but also lost a student. There are other forms in which the effects of unscrupulous sports agents to the university can reflect. For example, these agents who end up having trouble with the law puts the student athletes that they are luring or have already won over in a very delicate situation that is embarrassing and has possible emotional, psychological and mental impact to someone who could have been a promising athlete in the future if he or she was only handled by a more competent and ethical and morally sound sports agent. Scandals that the student athlete can be involved on because of the actions and directions of the sports agent can also hurt the university.

Impact on Collegiate Athletics in General

Wilson (1994) in fact mentioned in his analysis of the role and history of agents in collegiate athletics about the idea that agents posed a significant threat “to the integrity of college athletics (Wilson, 1994, p. 84).” This can manifest in different ways. The main effect of unprincipled sports agents to the collegiate athletics in general is this: because of this kinds of agents, there are student athletes playing in the collegiate tournaments that are already corrupted. Some players are not playing to the full extent; thus, becoming more of a liability than an asset. It is because these athletes believe there is nothing to gain in risking injuries that can scare away prospective professionals and prospective teams and scouts. Others are pushed to work too hard by agents so that they can be noticed by scouts; often, the agent wants this more than the athlete, not for the sake of the student athlete whom the agent should have been protecting from the start along with the best interest for the athlete, but for the agent’s own personal sake, particularly, financial sake; getting the athlete signed up by a professional team means commissions for the agent (Wilson, 1994, p. 84).

Collegiate tournaments known to be frequented by scouts and sports agents are also affected by the politics arising from this situation as a result of the relationship and interaction of sports agents, student athletes, parents, scouts and team owners and the different goals, agendas and motivation that these different individuals bring to the fore. Collegiate athletics that has become popular for a high rate of student athletes, not being able to complete their degree because they were already shipped by agents to the pro ranks, can be a very promising school for those who are eyeing getting pro. But they can also be a very vulnerable target for criticisms on the failure of educational institutions to protect students from being lured towards going pro even at the expense of unfinished college degrees. There are times that this decision comes from the student himself/herself without the guidance or influence of the sports agent. It is still the responsibility of the sports agents to look for the best interest of the student athlete. Finishing the college degree is always an important priority that the student athlete, the school, the collegiate athletic tournament and the sports agents should look after.

Part Two – The Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act or SPARTA

Considered as one of the latest developments when it comes to federal and government actions that is aimed at intervening at the actions happening between sports agents and student-athletes and professional athletes, the Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act was the Congress’ way of letting the public know they were doing something to address the problem posed by the presence of greedy, unethical and unscrupulous sports agents and their practices that sometimes creates problems for the athlete and for the league. The SPARTA was considered as an important development when it comes to legislation (Shropshire, Davis, 2008, p.147). “Barriers to a federal solution were overcome in 2004, when the Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act (SPARTA) was enacted (Shropshire, Davis, 2008, p.147).”

The idea that propelled the SPARTA is the idea of then representative Bart Gordon of Tennessee who believe that the agents should not give the student-athletes, as well as their relatives and other people who are influential in the decision making of the student athlete. The material items cannot be used as bribe to get the individual to sign a contract with the sports agent. This started in June 2002 and by September two years hence it was signed into law as the SPARTA that is known today (Shropshire, Davis, 2008, p.147).

Before it was signed into law on September 2004, there were hearings in the Congress in March of the same year about the reports that some athletes are being treated lavishly, including all expense trips and the use of private planes so that the athlete can be easily convinced to sign contracts. By August of the same year, agents are no longer allowed to offer student athletes with these lavish gifts including trips using private jets to avoid creating undue pressure when it comes to signing contracts and turning pro (Murphy, 2005). Under the rules of SPARTA, the actions of the sports agents which will be considered as deceptive and in violation of these rules will face corresponding fines, and the office that will oversee this is the Federal Trade Commission.

Part Three – Other protection nets provided by the law to protect student athletes from sports agents with questionable actions and behaviors during negotiation

There was a time when the practice of sports did not require the intervention or use of laws and legal options. But because of the changes that it has undergone over time, sports has become complex and involved different individuals with different goals and agendas and to be able to protect the innocent and the vulnerable from the dishonest and deceitful. Even with this agenda in mind, it is surprising that the introduction of interventions based on law was met with varying reactions from different people (Waicukauski, 1983, p. ix). “The emergence of law in sports has been greeted with indifference and occasionally, hostility (Waicukauski, 1983, p. ix).” The problem of unprincipled, deceitful, immoral and unethical sports agents and their practices and actions have been a concern by the government for several years now, especially during the time when professional sports started to become a very important and lucrative industry and the amount of money that is involved in this particular industry. Because of this, the government, in the past, has already created and instituted federal and state mechanisms intended to deter sports agents towards resorting to undesirable acts and courses of action in conducting the course of their business.

There are previous government-initiated actions the purpose of which is to deter sports agents from acting wrongly, unethically or unscrupulously towards student athletes and professional athletes. There are laws prior to SPARTA, but the problem with these laws is the variation that it experiences from one state to the other (Simons, 2009). “There is still substantial variation in the state law taken as a whole (Simons, 2009).” There are efforts like the Uniform Athlete Agents Act or UAAA.

These laws and statutes that the government is implementing require sports agents to undergo several different processes before being legit in the business. This is an important aspect of this is the requirement for certification. Certification is important because it allows athletes to be more discerning of the agent they pick and give them one more characteristic to look for in an agent; while for the agent, this move by the government can help them separate legit sports agents from those who are merely trying to take advantage of the vulnerability and marketability of student athletes (Simons, 2009).

Through the need for certification that is required by law for sports agents, there is a process that those who are not serious in this business can find burdensome, and in effect be a deterrent of sorts. “The certification process and monitoring of agents by the players associations…is an important mechanism for the regulation of dishonourable practitioners…in addition to these private systems, regulation has been provided by the government (Simons, 2009).” There are also other protective nets created by the law. An example of this is the RICO Act. RICO is an acronym for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. There are also statutes in the state level that address criminal and administrative problems, as well as civil statutes also that are present in the state level. In the discussion of the

But despite these mechanisms and after the many different courses of action explored and enacted to combat the problems that sports agents cause, there remains problems that are not fully addressed until today: “currently, 41 states have some form of athlete-agent regulation (Masteralexis, Barr, Hums, 2008, p. 262).” And yet, despite the presence of the regulation there are still several persistent problems that involve the sports agent. This is why efforts, like the signing of SPARTA, were considered important. It turned out to have several weaknesses. Many were disappointed and wanted something more after SPARTA was signed. It can materialize in the near future, no doubt, as a result of the efforts of the congress to remedy the weaknesses of SPARTA. But for the moment, it is important also to know that besides legislative nets, there are also other ways that regulation of sports agents is being accomplished, including the monitoring of professional agent organizations, the monitoring of sporting organizations and the value of personal morals and ethics of the person (Andreff, Szymanski, 2007, p. 682).

Part Four – Old problems will persist despite the new law

Critics to the recent actions hinged on laws spearheaded by the Congress’ initiatives point out that the new law will not create any dent to the old problem. There are no new deterrents or obstacles or other features that makes the new law more powerful compared to other old laws and statutes. Even with the new law, the actions leading to the problems about the practice and actions of unethical and immoral sports agents will be hard-pressed to be curbed as a result of the new law. There is nothing in the new law that is not found in the old laws powerful enough to make a significant change in the course of things. The Congress’ recently enacted statute can be considered as “ineffective” because its enforcement provisions are no stronger than deterrents already in place affecting the course of business in this particular industry. This new law has the potential to be largely unsuccessful in regulating the industry because it does not bring something new to the table to be used and to create the change that is necessary to correct several mistakes that are already seen in the past.

Why is it that the new law considered as useless and cannot provide the answer to the problems that the sporting world and the athletes are burdened with still even after there were actions in the past by the government to provide the public with the necessary mantle of protection they need? It is becuase the content of the Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act is not sufficient. The SPARTA merely informs the agent what he/she shouldn’t do – like providing false information, promise or representation, giving valuable material things to the athlete or to any one connected to the athlete as this maybe considered as an act of bribery, and the predating and postdating of agency contract – the sports agent can technically abide by these rules by the SPARTA; still, it can manage to pull enough tricks off his sleeve to continue with his/her overreaching and unscrupulous ways. The new law simply does not have anything to address this particular issue in the first place. The stipulations in the SPARTA are more focused on making sure bribery and misinformation tactics leading to signed agreements that are based on fraudulent actions are prevented. But this does not provide safeguards for the other actions that sports agents are very prone to succumb or resort to (Shropshire, Davis, 2008, p. 147).

One of the possible problems of the new law that explains why it is not capable at all in deterring old practices is that, like the other old laws, there are significant limitations and pronounced incapability of this law that allows sports agents to get in between the creases and still perform as they did in the past without the threat of the repercussions of the law that are not far reaching and encompassing enough to reach them, stop them, deter them and if possible, prosecute them. A very good example is the analysis made on SPARTA and how its design is still not enough to provide the protection needed by the most vulnerable of them all: the student athletes (Shropshire, Davis, 2008, p. 147). “SPARTA is designed principally to protect colleges and universities and, to a lesser extent, student athletes from improper recruitment activities of agents (Shropshire, Davis, 2008, p. 147).”

“The goal of the law (SPARTA) is to protect student-athletes from deceptive practices and keep the athletes eligible to play NCAA sports (Masteralexis, Barr, Hums, 2008, p. 262).” But in consideration to the specific actions of the sports agents that this new law hopes to deter, can it say that there are no holes left in the practice of luring student athletes that sports agents can use and still not be held liable in the court of law due to the violation of SPARTA? The truth is that there are many ways for sports agents to use and go about to make possible violations of the SPARTA justifiable and for it to be considered in technicality as non-violations but are circumstances that are all together different. For example, sports agents may present evidence that he is not guilty of making false promises. There are things outside of his control that worked against the circumstances, leading to the realization of particular promises that the sports agent made to the student athlete during contract negotiation with the sports agent. This circumstance does not necessarily translate as the sports agent’s act of consciously making false promise to the student athlete. The list can go on. The smartest sports agents who have strong background in law and those who work in companies that employ talented and well trained counselors can always find a way to go around the possible criminal liabilities in lieu of the SPARTA law. If this is the case, then it is true that the new law actually did not brought anything new to the system that the people can use to protect themselves from the actions of sports agents.

Lastly, what should also be considered is that analysts may be barking at the wrong tree and asking the wrong question: with the realization that there are growing unscrupulous actions by sports agents, what should be explored is not just the role of the agents but the role of the athletes as well: is this practice growing not just because of what agents do but what the athletes, on the other hand, demand and force the agents to do for them? “One challenge for agents is that the law is one-sided; only the agents are regulated and the athletes are perceived as playing no role in the practice of inducements being given to athletes (Masteralexis, Barr, Hums, 2008, p. 262).” But is that really the case always, or even often?

Part Five – Conclusion: Analysis and Suggestions

Ever since sports agents started to exist and became popular, they brought with them, alongside fat bonuses and endorsement contracts and other perks, problems as well as notoriety for their oftentimes undesirable attitudes. “The word agent has often been associated with the term unscrupulous in the context of the sports business (Epstein, 2002, p. 7).” There should be sufficient systems in place so that the attitudes of sports agents that lead to problematic situations are addressed. This attitude is the reason for the undesirable predicament that sports agents and athletes end up to during select circumstances.

“Agent misconduct and malfeasance, ranging from mismanagement and misappropriation of athlete client’s assets to disparagement of other agents in order to gain a competitive advantage, fuel perceptions of an industry composed of individuals too willing to compromise ethics and competent representation for financial gain (Shropshire, Davis, 2008, p. 1).”

The question facing policy makers and other stakeholders now that SPARTA, like its predecessors, appear to be insufficient and incapable in providing the necessary solution to problems, especially about the attitude of sports agents is this: what can be done now, by entities like the Congress so that overreaching sports agents are deterred from pursuing further this particular strategy in luring student athletes towards going professional?

One of the obvious answers is for the Congress to review once again the problem, and what SPARTA managed, and did not manage, to answer. The Congress can start re-assessing and re-evaluating what SPARTA managed to accomplish and what it cannot accomplish and from there see what developments can be made, either to SPARTA itself, or to the approach of legislation itself aimed at regulation sports agents’ behavior all in all. The Congress may opt to reconstruct SPARTA or make developments and improvements. Most importantly, it should act faster on the resolution for whatever developments and improvements the Congress plans regarding SPARTA. On the other hand, other members of the Congress, especially those who share the same sentiment about how the SPARTA is by and all useless, can sponsor a new bill that feature a better framework to handle the problems on sports agents and their relationship with student athletes / professional athletes.

The only logical course of action in this predicament is to move forward. In the case of Congress action, this means better attention on this problem, better framework and faster action. In any case, this point in time only gives stakeholders like the Congress and other institutions the ability to look into all of the other possible approaches and possible solutions that can be achieved through the use of resources available and at the disposal of the Congress. “Commentators in search of a more direct federal vehicle to regulate athlete agents proposed various types of sports agent-specific legislation ranging from a federal version of state legislation to a model based on federal securities law (Shropshire, Davis, 2008, p. 147).”

Moving forward is important because the Congress will remain as an impetus for change, including the pursuit for positive, constructive change in the field of sports agent-athlete relationship characterized by fairness, equality and ethics. “The law of sports agency continues to evolve (Epstein, 2002, p. 7).” The sports agency related laws can only evolve if the Congress and other stakeholders continue to work towards developing and improving old laws and statutes and creating new laws to supplement old laws and make sports agents’ behavior and action more and more ethical through the guidance of these laws. There is no guarantee that the next law or the next development or improvement of the law is the perfect law. All the society can hope for is the effort to create the best policy there is so that the problem is remedied as best as possible. The Congress should continue working because even if today’s SPARTA and other state based laws and statutes are considered ineffective and insufficient, it is only through continued effort and follow up that the status of laws and their abilities will change for the better. “Government regulation is perceived at best as a nuisance (Waicukauski, 1983, p. ix)” but it shouldn’t be like that all that time and only the Congress can do something about it.

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