The Arkansas Player and Fan Protection Act, a bill being proposed by newly elected Rep. David Sanders (R-Little Rock), might prevent such a scenario.

Yes, that’s the same David Sanders who once wrote the column that appears in this space.

The bill would make it a felony in Arkansas for an agent to provide or arrange for anything of value to be provided to a college athlete (it’s currently a never-prosecuted misdemeanor), fine the agent at least $250,000 (it’s now $50,000 in pocket change), and revoke his or her license to practice their craft in Arkansas for up to five years (they currently face no revocation at all). The bill also would penalize anyone acting on behalf of an agent.

The bill is especially relevant this year. In recent months, college football fans have seen the University of Southern California vacate its 2004 national championship because one player, Reggie Bush, accepted gifts from an agent. Current USC players who were in junior high when the rules were broken, won’t be allowed to play in a bowl game this year or next. Closer to home, a similar cloud of suspicion hangs over undefeated Auburn and its heralded quarterback, Cam Newton. If Auburn does win the national championship, its players and fans might not know for years if they will be allowed to keep it.

Sanders’ point is that, under the current system, the guilty parties are the only ones who aren’t penalized. Agents get off scot-free and end up representing some of the most lucrative players. The offending athletes are making millions in the pros by the time the NCAA completes its investigations. It’s the current players, the fans and the athletic departments, not to mention the local economies, that take the real hit.

Unfortunately, there is only so much that an Arkansas legislator can accomplish. While this bill might rein in unscrupulous agents, the real problem is that everybody makes a lot of money off a college football game except the players.

Current NCAA rules — widely flouted — forbid student-athletes to be paid for their legitimate work of entertaining and inspiring millions of paying customers as well as enormous viewing and listening audiences. (The NCAA, on the other hand, makes all the money it can.) Meanwhile, the players also can’t accept unearned gifts off the field.

This leaves student athletes, some of whom come from impoverished backgrounds, in a difficult situation. Even full athletic scholarships don’t pay for a lot of necessities, such as laundry money or Christmas trips home. Meanwhile, playing in a major sport at a major college has become such a full-time job that these student-athletes can’t earn spending money elsewhere and still go to class.

It would not be hard to see why a 19-year-old would be vulnerable to an agent or anyone else offering what seems like fair compensation.

The NCAA puts young student-athletes in a no-win position, and then when they choose to accept the money they should have been paid anyway, it calls it cheating. Paying student-athletes up front — let’s say $1,000 or $2,000 a month — wouldn’t end the practice, but it would reduce it. Student-athletes wouldn’t have to cheat just to make ends meet and would have greater incentives not to break the rules.

Sanders’ bill can’t do much about the NCAA’s problems, but it would help protect players and fans in Arkansas. It’s not an 80-yard touchdown, but it would move the ball down the field. In lawmaking, that’s usually the best you can do.

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