Mississippi doesn't want to lose the Heisman.

Mississippi does not want to risk losing a Heisman trophy. Motivated by Reggie Bush’s loss of his Heisman, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman led the charge in passing a new Mississippi law tightening sports agent regulations, saying, “If Mississippi ever wins a Heisman trophy, we want to keep it.” (Hopefully, Hoseman realizes that states do not win Heisman trophies.) Amid the recent inundation of college football scandals, however, Hoseman’s move is not surprising. Schools nationwide have been plagued by student-athletes receiving unauthorized compensation from sources outside universities, and it was only a matter of time before states started to act. Hoseman hopes that Mississippi’s new law will not only protect student-athletes’ eligibility, but it will also protect the future of student-athletes that unscrupulous agents attempt to exploit.

Mississippi’s new law contains a long list of new regulations; however, one of the most interesting is its broadening of the definition of compensation. In Mississippi, “compensation” to a student-athlete now includes “anything of value,” preventing agents from skirting the law by offering goods to student-athletes not covered under the law. More important, however, is that whoever gives something of value to a student-athlete will be classified as an “agent” under the law, requiring that person to register with the secretary of state. This change was a response to “runners” who provided student-athletes with compensation. “Runners,” many of whom are students on campus, are usually employed by agents to give benefits to student-athletes in order to entice them to sign a contract with the agent. Hoseman hopes that this new law will prevent “runners” from operating under the radar.

Other changes to the law include requiring agents to register with the secretary of state before ever signing a player; requiring them to notify the university before soliciting the student-athlete, his relatives, or “anyone living in the same place” as the student-athlete; and requiring disclosures of current litigation the agent is involved in and state licenses the agent holds, among other things. Any violation of these regulations or numerous others will result in a civil or criminal penalty not to exceed 2 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

Although this new law appears to be a step in the right direction, it has been criticized by some. The requirement to register with the secretary of state before signing a player has been criticized as a barrier to entry for smaller agents, who would want to see if they could sign a student-athlete before paying the registration fee. The law used to allow agents seven days to register with the secretary of state after signing a player, and it is argued that there was no reason to change this part of the law. Others simply believe that agents are only a small part of the problem, and that without also imposing penalties on coaches and boosters, the problem will not be solved. Finally, some believe the possible 2 years of jail time does not fit the crime. However, Texas (10 years) and Tennessee (6 years) already impose much harsher penalties. What do you think? Will this law mitigate the seemingly prevalent corruption of college athletics? Or is the threat of 2 years in jail for giving a college student a couple hundred bucks absurd?

– R.L. Florance

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3 Responses to Mississippi Cracking Down on Sports Agents

  1. wpickens says:

    I don’t see any Mississippi ball players pulling in Heismans any time soon (although I would’ve given one to Wayne Madkin a few years back–best Mississippi quarterback I’ve seen play in my lifetime; yes, Mike, I am taking a facetious a shot at Eli).

    Mike, I agree with your observations, but from what I gather it seems that the only real barrier to entry for agents would be the pre-signing registration fee. This kind of fee seems like a regular cost of doing business that might have counterparts in other states that would likely even states’ playing fields, and I think there are very few players sitting at that sweet spot where a simple registration fee would tip the agents’ risk-return analysis towards skipping Mississippi altogether.

  2. Mike Ritter says:

    I think it is possible that the effects of these laws might reach beyond the agents. Consider the student-athletes hoping to go pro from Mississippi colleges. With increased barriers to entry (for agents, mentioned in the blog) there may be fewer agents willing to take a risk representing a lower level talent. Additionally, the rules might keep some established agents out of the state – why risk criminal liability in Mississippi when you could continue your actions in another state. The result might be fewer contacts and fewer opportunities for Mississippi athletes. This of course, could lead to a negative feed back loop: if athletes know that their chances of going pro out of Mississippi are worse, they will choose to attend other schools. I hope Mississippi legislatures know what they are doing.

  3. Whitney says:

    While I would initially be tempted to say that the states should just leave this to the NCAA, the NCAA’s regulations to keep the sport amateur and pure do not seem to be working–likely due to consequences for the player (or team) alone and to uneven enforcement. I do think, however, that boosters are as much of a problem as agents are, but would it be possible to detect and enforce this? I would think the state of Mississippi (or any other state for that matter) really has more important things to be focusing on.

    Nonetheless, many of these problems could be solved if we treated the players like employees of the university and the game like the business it is.