I have to give a shout out to my man Joshua Golka, who found a treasure in C-SPAN’s archives. He dug up the House Session dated 6/4/2003, which dealt with the Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act, also known as SPARTA. If you have read my paper titled, Duties of Sports Agents to Athletes and Statutory Regulation Thereof, which was published in the Dartmouth Law Journal, you are well aware that this is a piece of legislation I have studied for quite some time. I find it highly enjoyable to now be able to watch those in the House of Representatives discuss the original bill before it was passed and turned into law. I will now share it with you.
Representative Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Florida, spoke first, saying that SPARTA was responsible and necessary. There were few, if any consequences to dissuade agents from acting unscrupulously. Stearns recognized that many states had laws, that they were inconsistent, and that the Uniform Athlete Agents Act was created to unify them. The problem was that there was no guarantee that all states would adopt it (which they have not yet, and it is now 2010). He saw SPARTA to be a bill that would give a little bit more power to the states.
Representative Bart Gordon spoke next. He was most concerned about agents influencing players to leave school early. He also believed that SPARTA solved the problems of “patchwork state laws” and would be most effective in states with no agent laws on the books. He made a point to say, “This bill does not set up a national sports police.”
Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin seemed to take a slightly different stance on SPARTA. He sounded like an advocate of amateurism who thought that SPARTA would act as a way to return pure athletic accomplishment and route the economic side of college sports. Quite a noble aim, but he needed to look well beyond agents to change the landscape of college sports, which has a huge monetary component. He believed that the Uniform Athlete Agents Act is not enough and that a federal solution was necessary.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas spoke from a personal perspective, since she had a son who was athletically talented. She thought that SPARTA was important because it provides an even playing field for student athletes. She stated, “The unscrupulous will be charged.” She complemented the un-named competent sports agents she knew, but was sure to point out that we are not all on that level.
Representative Tom Osborne of Nebraska spoke about how 17 states had no athlete agent laws at all and that only 20 states were on board with the UAAA. He said that a lot of people call themselves agents, but don’t have a client – Osborne said these people must be pretty desperate. He said that these agents will offer the student athletes the three Cs – Cars, Clothes, and Cash. Sometimes even the D – Drugs. Worst of all, these agents offer kids false promises of being drafted high. Osborne was also worried with pre-dating and post-dating of contracts and runners.
Representative Chris Cannon of Utah believed that SPARTA would help serve as a deterrent to unscrupulous behavior. He wanted to separate these restrictions, which would only affect athlete agents, from athletes’ rights to obtain legal counsel.
After watching the clip now, in 2010, the real question is – while SPARTA was endorsed by practically every sports organization (as pointed out by Bart Gordon), has SPARTA really been effective in closing the holes that many states have left open? Has this “federal remedy” really been all that productive? The goals are noble and the regulations seem to be spot on. But what about the enforcement? Maybe the Federal Trade Commission is the wrong body to regulate our profession. SPARTA does also allow state Attorneys General to enforce its regulations.
I have another question. If a federal solution was so necessary, why not license agents on a federal level, and scrap the whole antiquated state registration system? Forget about the UAAA, make SPARTA more expansive, and charge agents one fee, at one time each year, to be licensed federally under a truly uniform application and uniform body of law.
And one more question to throw out there – Why didn’t SPARTA include a right for the athletes themselves to enforce the duties of sports agents?
Maybe someone with political clout will read this and my paper linked at the top of this article. But probably not. If my ideas don’t make sense, I’d love to hear how the current system somehow is efficient and a better option.