COLUMBIA, Mo. --- After a college football season blemished by charges of rule-breaking agents and athletes, legislators from New Jersey to Oregon are looking to make it tougher on those who contact players improperly.
Lawmakers in New Jersey and Virginia -- two of the eight states that lack sports agents laws -- now want to add such legal protections. Six other states are considering proposals to strengthen the Uniform Athletes Agent Act, a model law that suffers from neglect in many states.
That includes Arkansas, where 89 House members voted unanimously Wednesday to make violations of its agent laws -- previously a misdemeanor -- a felony offense.
An August 2010 review by The Associated Press found that more than half of the 42 states with sports agent laws didn't revoke or suspend a single license, or invoke penalties of any sort. Neither had the Federal Trade Commission, which in 2004 was given oversight authority by Congress.
The proposed Oklahoma measure broadens the definition of agent to cover financial planners -- player reps who don't negotiate contracts but still have a financial stake in a college athlete's future earnings -- while increasing the minimum fine for violations from $1,000 to $10,000 and the maximum from $10,000 to $250,000.
Jeff Hawkins, director of football operations at the University of Oregon, plans to testify in support of the proposal. He's also a member of the NCAA panel considering even broader changes.
"Enforcement really is the key to everything," he said.
Hawkins said the panel members -- including the presidents of the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts as well as the Big Ten and Southeastern conference commissioners -- have tentatively agreed to a broader definition of agent that applies to any person who directly or indirectly "seeks to represent or gain financially" by representing or marketing a college athlete.
That expanded definition could potentially be applied to athletes' immediate family members, people like Cecil Newton, the father of Heisman Trophy winner and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
The panel, which meets again in March, is also discussing a "universal recruiting calendar" that would proscribe when agents can contact potential clients on campus, similar to the NCAA's recruiting calendar for coaches.
The NCAA is also pushing for a national registration system that would allow schools, state regulators and athletes to verify an agent's qualifications and legal status through a single database, Hawkins said.
An NCAA spokeswoman said the group "continues to make progress in identifying potential solutions," including a discussion of "post-NCAA financial penalties" for prospective pros who lose their college eligibility for receiving improper benefits from agents.
NCAA rules allow agents to meet with college athletes but forbid those students from entering into contracts with agents or accepting meals, gifts, transportation or other financial incentives. But the NCAA rules apply to athletes and schools, not the agents.
Inquiries led to several teams losing key players for significant chunks of the season, including Georgia star receiver A.J. Green, who was suspended by the NCAA for four games after selling a game jersey from the 2009 Independence Bowl for $1,000.
Hawkins said that tougher rules are needed to keep unscrupulous agents from persuading marginal pro prospects that they should leave school before graduation in search of fame and riches.