Colleges Use Courts To Keep Agents, Boosters Away From Student-Athletes

The NCAA announced Wednesday that
the Oklahoma Sooners eight wins from the 2005 season would be invalidated
because two players employed by a booster received pay for jobs they didn’t
actually work. The athletics department will face other athletic sanctions as
well. States and colleges, trying to avoid situations like that, are
increasingly turning to the courts to help protect the integrity of big-time
college athletics.

Reggie Bush, the former University
of Southern California running back
and now a star for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, recently reached a settlement
with CaliforniaDiverse: “The Heisman Trophy
Trust is aware of the situation, but does not feel it’s appropriate to make a
decision or pass judgment until the NCAA and the Pac-10 have released their
findings.” Bush, for his part, has mostly refused to participate in the
investigation. real estate agent
and sports agent Michael Michaels, who reportedly let Bush’s family live
rent-free in a $750,000 house during Bush’s college tenure. Michaels had hoped
that he would represent Bush in the NFL, but when Bush signed with Mike
Ornstein and Joel Segal instead, Michaels went public with the housing
arrangement, drawing scrutiny to the player and the Trojans’ national
championship team. The NCAA continues to investigate, and Bush’s Heisman trophy
may be more than just a little tarnished; it may have to be flat out returned.
Tim Henning, the Heisman coordinator, told

While not as high profile as the Bush case, other
instances of improper contact between agents and players have occurred at USC.
In 1995, Robert Troy Caron, head of the sports agency Pro Manage, agreed to pay
the university $50,000 to settle a lawsuit that claimed he provided three
players, Shawn Walters, Israel Ifeanyi and Errick Herrin, with plane tickets,
rent and other items in hopes of representing the players at the next level.
After the violations surfaced, the three players, all starters, were dismissed
from the team.

Agent
infractions have hit universities big and small. In 2003, for example, the NCAA
levied a four-year probation on Fresno
State University
for violations that included illicit connections between an agent and a member
of the men’s basketball team during the summer of 2001.

Amy P. Perko,
the executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics,
says that while the number of booster-related violations is on the decline,
agent-related infringement is increasing.

And since the
agents are “not connected with the institution,” it’s harder to control their
actions, says Bill Clever, the assistant athletic director for compliance at
the University of Oregon.
“Agents are a true nightmare.”

Universities
such as Oregon now hold “agent
days” to educate players about appropriate conduct. States are also beginning
to pass laws making it illegal for agents to interact with college athletes in
inappropriate ways. The statutes target the agents and the students. Clever
says Oregon’s state law allows
the school to file a civil suit against a student-athlete should his or her
illegal contact with an agent result in a loss of revenue for the institution.
Overall, these measures have been “pretty successful” tools, Clever says, but
both he and Perko agree more needs to be done.

The Oregon
law is based on the Uniform Athlete Agents Act that has been passed in 35
states. In 1997, the NCAA encouraged the National Conference of Commissioners
on Uniform State Laws — an organization comprised of 300 state-appointed
lawyers, judges, state legislators and law professors — to develop model
legislation regarding sports agents that states could pattern their own laws
after. The UAAA was the result of those deliberations. Essentially, it allows a
state to fine an agent $25,000 per violation, and institutions can seek
financial restitution against a student-athlete for any loss of revenue caused
by violations. California, Colorado,
Iowa, Michigan
and Ohio have passed legislation
designed to regulate agent contact that does not fall under the UAAA
guidelines. Illinois, Massachusetts,
Virginia and seven other states
have no laws governing agent misbehavior.

But despite
education and legislation, some boosters and agents continue to prey upon
rising sports stars.

P.J. Clark, a
former walk-on wide receiver and kick returner for the University
of Minnesota’s football team, says
boosters and agents “are great at being invisible. I don’t think anyone is
stupid enough to give a handout after the game, but it’s all about contact
information. They’ll pass you a card and say, ‘give me a call if you need a
job.’”

 
Separate But Equal?

Most
student-athletes, coaches and administrators agree that egregious improprieties
like those being alleged against Bush are relatively rare.

“I’ve been here
for 18 years, and I’ve seen the houses and the apartments where the students
live,” says John Chadima, an associate athletic director at the University
of Wisconsin. “[The housing
situation of] athletes and non-athletes are all the same.”

Anna Fiser, a
senior goalie for the Auburn University
women’s soccer team, agrees with Chadima. “If [the athletes] aren’t living
illegally, they shouldn’t have these lavish lifestyles,” she says.

“I’ve never seen
any evidence of this directly, but there are rumors that fly around.”

NCAA rules
mandate that all scholarship athletes receive financial assistance for room,
board and books, regardless of how much revenue a program generates.

Gail Dent, the
NCAA’s associate director for public relations, says that according to the
organization’s bylaws, “it isn’t the visibility of the sport that dictates the
financial status [of students on scholarship].”

A
student-athlete on a basketball scholarship receives, or should receive, the
same benefits as a scholarship softball player.

But while
athletes in the big-money sports may not all be cruising around campus in
luxury SUVs, there is generally a noticeable difference in the lifestyles of
athletes and non-athletes, especially at the Division I level.

“Our
student-athletes with full scholarships are better off, their education is paid
for, room and board are paid for. In my mind, they do very well with what they
receive,” says Bill Morgan, the associate athletic director for compliance at
the University of Arizona.

Yet even full
scholarships don’t necessarily cover everything.

The Collegiate
Athletes Coalition, an advocacy group begun in 2001 by former UCLA football
player Ramogi D. Huma, reports that a full scholarship falls short by an
average of $3,000 in meeting the financial needs of student-athletes. Huma
began the CAC after the NCAA suspended
UCLA’s All-America linebacker Donnie Edwards for accepting groceries at the end
of a month when his stipend ran out.

For years, the
NCAA refused to allow students to work, fearing that boosters would give
athletes easy jobs with high pay. In 1997, the organization altered the rules
to allow student-athletes to hold jobs as long as they clear the position with
their school’s compliance officer. The rule requires that “the student-athlete
[be] compensated at a rate commensurate with that going rate in that locality
for similar services.” Morgan praises the change, saying it “treats
[student-athletes] like every other student instead of singling them out.”

But that isn’t
always the case. Just before the start of the 2006 college football season, University
of Oklahoma starting quarterback
Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team after it was discovered that he’d received
approximately $7,000 from his job at a local car dealership for hours he didn’t
work. Sooners teammate J.D. Quinn, who also worked at the dealership, was also
dismissed from the team for similar reasons. The dealership, Big Red
Sports/Imports, had been managed by Brad McRae, a Sooners booster. Bomar told
ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that “Football is basically a full-time job. Things
like [not reporting to work] are easy.” Bomar transferred to Division
I-AA Sam Houston
State University,
while Quinn transferred to the University
of Montana. Both had to sit out a
year but are slated to start this fall. The NCAA, meanwhile, announced on
Wednesday that the Sooners eight wins from the 2005 season, when Bomar and
Quinn were playing, would be invalidated. The athletics department will face
other athletic sanctions as well.

Many
student-athletes and administrators agree it’s almost impossible to attend
class, participate in a sport and work a job during the season. To pay for
expenses not covered by her partial scholarship, Fiser worked during the summer
and received financial assistance from her parents. Clark
participated in Minnesota’s
work-study program. Student-athletes could also apply for financial aid, such
as the Pell Grant, or tap into the Special Assistance Fund, a portion of which
is set aside by the NCAA specifically for athletes. The SAF exists in part
because of the Knight Commission’s recommendations.

“The commission
advocated for a set of principles to help cover the cost of attendance for the
very needy,” Perko says. When the NCAA signed a new contract with CBS, the
document included a clause that routed a portion of the revenue towards the
creation of the SAF.

While
organizations like the Knight Commission are working to level the playing field,
some say there is a danger in doing too much.

“The NCAA has
done a lot of things to make the situation better,” Morgan says. “We should
stop and see what’s going on, where we are, and take a step back before we do
anything knee jerk.”

– Noah Davis

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