With Wiley case, prosecutors test agent law
The indictment of former UNC tutor Jennifer Wiley Thompson under the state’s Uniform Athlete Agents Act Thursday raised questions about the legal proceedings of her case after officials revealed hers was the first of its kind.
Thompson was indicted on four counts of athletic agent inducement under the UAAA. Each of her charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 months in prison.
Further indictments are expected to come down later this week.
“As far as we know, nobody has ever been charged under the act before, so there are a lot of questions that I’m not going to be able to answer,” said Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall Thursday.
But runners, or those who communicate between agents and student athletes, might be more cautious about doing favors for athletes now that Thompson’s indictment has proven that officials will take action.
“I think that this case has a tremendous educational impact as serving notice to other runners that they will be prosecuted as well,” said Barbara Osborne, a professor in the department of exercise and sports science who specializes in legal issues in intercollegiate athletics.
Michael McCann, a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated and director of the University of New Hampshire Law Sports and Entertainment Law Institute, said in an email that it seems prosecutors want to make an example out of Thompson’s case.
“This case will attract media and, in doing so, discourage tutors at the University of North Carolina and other colleges in the state to not give money to players,” he said.
The Uniform Athlete Agents Act was drafted in 2000 by the Uniform Laws Commission — an independent organization that drafts legislation for states.
The law aims to protect the interest of student athletes and academic institutions by regulating agent activity. The draft, which was written as a template bill for state governments to adopt, has been enacted in part or in full by 43 states in an effort to standardize athlete agent laws.
Although many states enacted the athlete agent regulations, most have disparate laws.
North Carolina enacted the law in 2003. The state statute defines an athlete agent as an individual who solicits or recruits a student athlete to enter an agency contract, or enters into one with an athlete.
North Carolina decided to make the act law after several other states adopted the policy.
“It was all part of the process of modernization,” said George Jeter, an N.C. Secretary of State spokesman.
But states often lack the resources to enforce the act, especially investigating the insular athlete agents community, said Paul Haagen, a Duke law professor who formerly advised Duke sports teams.
North Carolina law enforcement only act on an incident that is highly visible or affects the whole state, Osborne said.
Agents are often not deterred from illegal actions because enforcement penalties are small compared to an agent’s potential gain from representing a college athlete, Osborne said. For agents, fines become the operating expense.
“In order for the law to have any teeth, the fines need to be a lot bigger, and the state needs to do a really good job enforcing and recommending jail time,” she said.
South Carolina enacted an amended version of the act in 2004, in which agents register as organizations instead of individuals, lowering the registration fees, said Martha Phillips, staff attorney for the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs. The ULC recently drafted a new version of the UAAA after several states repealed or amended the law. The new draft considers creating a national registration, and redefining the athlete-agent.
But Marc Edelman, a law professor at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College in the City University of New York, criticized the act for protecting institutions over student athletes.
“I think the UAAA is a very unfortunate act, in that it does very little for athletes, and it does a lot more to protect the NCAA and colleges,” he said.
Haagen said one way to stop underground dealings in the collegiate athletics industry is to lift the current regulations.
“If you take the pressure off current regulation, you could probably drive a lot of the underground dealings into the light,” Haagen said. “If you open it up, it could be easier to enforce, like legalizing marijuana or lowering the drinking age. It’s an impossibly difficult thing to regulate.”
Sports Editor Brooke Pryor contributed reporting.
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