Dreams of becoming a professional athlete — and in turn, a likely millionaire if playing in one of the higher profile team sports such as football, baseball or basketball — are top of mind for many elite athletes in the amateur ranks. And for those fortunate enough to find their way onto a professional roster and secure the lucrative contract that can come with it, there are those outside the athletic arena who stand to be paid handsomely by serving as sports agents.

But before these millionaire athletes ever secure that first big pay day, they must first navigate the restrictions mapped out by the governing bodies, specifically the NCAA, that oversee collegiate sports and the student-athletes that participate in them. Yet, as has been seen all too often over the years, there are those unethical, predatory sports agents looking to cash in early by supplying benefits in violation of the rules.

For the most part, it’s the amateur athlete that has had everything to lose if found to violate the rules — stripped of scholarships, declared ineligible to play their sport, shunned by professional teams. Most agents simply moved on to the next athlete in a sports culture that unfortunately has come to accept such shenanigans as the norm.

That’s why we were glad to see Tennessee lawmakers level the playing field a bit more during its most recent session and pass legislation to hold the sports agents more accountable for engaging in questionable practices that could easily jeopardize the future of these young people.

The Athlete Agent Reform Act of 2011 goes after “runners,” marketers, financial advisors and any family members acting on behalf of athletes if they seek payment not allowed by NCAA rules, according to sponsors, Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas. Gov. Bill Haslam recently signed the bill into law.

Tracy said he sponsored the bill “to expand the definition to all parties that are currently acting as an athlete agent in order to protect the student athletes and punish the wrongdoers.”

Carr said Secretary of State Tre Hargett asked him to sponsor the legislation, which would levy a $25,000 fine against violators. That’s a hefty deterrent for those seeking to exploit these young people, including parents. Tracy noted that the new law also clearly defines the secretary of state’s role in investigating illicit activity and seeking penalties against lawbreaking sports agents.

The new law widens the number of people who must register as sports agents so bad agents can no longer use people as intermediaries to talk to athletes, including high school and college players. Parents could act as their child’s agent if they don’t accept money.

While the millions awaiting professional athletes is enticing, those securing such livelihoods are not only an exclusive group, their professional careers are often short-lived due to injury and the nonstop pipeline of competition. A college education is critical to prepare for life beyond the sport. Unscrupulous sports agents can put both in jeopardy, and they need to be stopped.

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