“The actions of just a few sports agents can ruin athletes’ careers and cost universities millions of dollars, potentially harming entire athletic programs here in our state,” Pruitt said in a Friday video statement, timed to the beginning of the college football season.
Pruitt said the team will find, investigate and prosecute sports agents and their runners who “seek to harm our students and our universities.”
Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Pruitt, said an attorney on Pruitt’s staff will be assigned part time to lead the team. Investigators will be assigned to probes as they are needed.
Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Legislature toughened the state law regulating sports agents, requiring them to post $250,000 surety bonds and stiffening penalties for violators.
First infractions are misdemeanors, subject to fines of up to $250,000. Second infractions are felonies, subject to fines of up to $500,000 and up to three years in prison.
The law also allows Pruitt’s office to issue subpoenas for any material relevant to the administration of the Uniform Athlete Agents Act.
“Oklahoma’s newly strengthened Uniform Athlete Agents Act sends a message to sports agents around the country that preying on Oklahoma’s student-athletes and their families will not be tolerated,” Pruitt said.
The legislation was written by state Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
Thomsen was a punter and kicker for the University of Oklahoma football team 1985-88 and was part of OU’s 1985 national championship team.
“I think that the problem has escalated exponentially year after year,” Thomsen said.
If an agent breaks rules in dealing with athletes and that leads to NCAA penalties, the damage goes well beyond the athlete and the school, Thomsen said. Local businesses in Norman and Stillwater rely on successful sports programs for economic stimulus, he said.
Thomsen and Bingman said they were pleased to hear that Pruitt was pursuing the new law aggressively.
Bingman said it was time to make sure sports agents who break the rules pay significant penalties for their actions.
Officials at OU and Oklahoma State University said they supported Pruitt’s efforts.
“We commend Attorney General Pruitt’s enforcement and educational enhancements related to Oklahoma’s Uniformed Athlete Agents Act,” OSU Athletic Director Mike Holder said in a statement released by Pruitt’s office. “These efforts will make significant progress toward protecting the eligibility of our student-athletes from individuals in the sports agent industry who are willing to violate NCAA rules and Oklahoma laws in order to gain inappropriate access to our student-athletes.”
OU athletic department spokesman Kenny Mossman said: “We are very supportive of this legislation and appreciate the actions of the attorney general in addressing a problem that has become more prominent in recent years.”