By Walter T. Champion
In the days of legend, sports agents were likely to be car salesmen, or worse. There was a strident call for regulation that was answered by sports unions and state legislatures. But, it was piece-meal at best; some regimes even appeared self-serving.
Oregon has stepped into the forefront of the debate with unanimous approval of S.B.5, the Revised Uniform Athlete Agents Act, on Feb. 23, 2017.
This piece of legislation expands the definition of who is considered to be a “sports agent,” while simultaneously authorizing criminal sanctions against would-be agents at the behest of the wronged athlete, and not by the allegedly besmirched university. It is nothing short of tremor in the Force.
A dynamic concern with the whole concept of sports agents is the chameleon-like charlatan who acts as an agent while professing to be something else entirely. This way, they can avoid penalties and sanctions. Two decades ago, like Lord Denethor, I foresaw the potential problem of the “attorney qua agent,” heavily-regulated attorneys who are not the most likely candidate to be an athlete’s bogeyman. (Walter T. Champion, “Attorneys Qua Sports Agents: An Ethical Conundrum,” 7 Marq. Sports L.J. 349 (1997)).
The Bill would transform licensed professionals who advise the athlete to the status of athlete agents. These shadow advisors, under the proposed legislation, must now register and follow Oregon’s sports agent regulations. It expands the agent’s territory from contract negotiation to include business affairs.
However, this new concept of “athlete agent” does not include a close relation of the athlete or individuals acting solely on behalf of a professional sports team. There is also a significant exclusion for individuals who work for branding companies, such as Nike. Call it Oregon’s Phil Knight exception.
S.B.5 reinforces the integrity of an athlete’s NCAA eligibility at a time when the NCAA’s entire leitmotif seems shaken and unfocused. Now, if an agent improperly signs an Oregon athlete, the athlete himself (or herself), has a statutorily-enacted cause of action for damages.
Champion is Professor of Law, Texas Southern Univ. School of Law, and author of Sports Law in a Nutshell, Gaming Law in a Nutshell, and Sports Ethics for Sports Management Professionals. He can be reached at email@example.com