Amid basketball scandal, Kentucky lawmakers seek to tighten rules on sports agents

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, talked on the Senate floor Wednesday March 15, 2017.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, talked on the Senate floor Wednesday March 15, 2017. LRC Public Information

In the midst of a federal investigation into corruption in the world of college basketball, a Louisville lawmaker is trying to tighten up the rules that govern athletic agents.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said his Senate Bill 228 is not in direct reaction to the scandal that brought down University of Louisville men’s basketball Coach Rick Pitino. Instead, it’s about synchronizing Kentucky’s laws with other states so that sports agents have the same rules wherever they go.

“You wouldn’t want laws on athletic agents to be really strict in North Carolina and Kentucky and really loose in, say, Kansas,” McGarvey said.

The “Uniform Athlete Agents Act” legislation was drafted by the Uniform Law Commission, a national non-profit based in Chicago, Ill., that tries to produce model legislation that can be applied across jurisdictions. McGarvey’s father, Louisville attorney John McGarvey, serves as one of Kentucky’s uniform law commissioners.

McGarvey’s bill would broaden the definition of an agent to include business and financial advisers and marketers, and requires those people to register with the state licensing department in the Public Protection Cabinet. They would have to provide a roster of background details, including other states where they’re active and any past criminal activity. It also requires an agent who has a “relationship” with a student athlete who enrolls in college to notify that college no later than 10 days after enrollment of the relationship. If an agent signs any contract with a student-athlete, the agent would have to notify the athletics director of that school within 72 hours.

NCAA rules forbid student-athletes to agree orally or in writing to be represented by an agent or an organization before the completion of their last intercollegiate competition, including post-season games. In addition, they are not allowed to accept any gifts or expense payments from agents before and during their college careers.

NCAA officials did not return calls seeking a comment for this story, but the NCAA website says the organization supports the Uniform Athletes Agents Act.

“The UAAA is an important tool in regulating the activities of athlete agents and protecting NCAA student-athletes and member institutions,” the site says.

It’s not clear how the law would be enforced, but the legislation would allow a student-athlete or an institution to sue agents if they are adversely affected by an agent’s lack of notification. A previous version of the law is on the books in 42 states, according to the commission, and its updated version has already been adopted in eight states, including Tennessee and Alabama.

Although the legislation was under way before the current scandal broke, McGarvey said, “if we’re being honest, we have known there was a problem before this.”

UofL was snagged in an FBI investigation last year when it was determined that a group of agents and representatives of Adidas had allegedly funneled $100,000 to the family of a recruit, later determined to be Brian Bowen. Documents said the player would later retain the services of the agents after he had gone pro. Bowen has since denied any knowledge of the payment; Coach Rick Pitino and Athletics Director Tom Jurich were later fired.

Last month, Yahoo! Sports reported that one current and two former University of Kentucky basketball players were named in FBI investigative documents that detailed expenditures of former sports agent Andy Miller and his former associate Christian Dawkins. The documents indicated the agents loaned money to some players and paid for their meals.

McGarvey is not the first lawmaker to file legislation regarding college sports this session. Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, filed a bill that would require university governing boards to review big sponsorship and endorsement deals.

Officials at UK and UofL declined to comment on McGarvey’s bill.

The bill is set to be heard in the Senate Education Committee Thursday.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford