LOS ANGELES -- Reforms ranging from providing more scholarship money to strengthening local and state laws to prohibit sports agents from exploiting student athletes were suggested Thursday to a California Senate committee looking into an issue that has once again garnered national attention.
The backdrop for the hearing of the Select Committee on Sports and Entertainment was the Los Angeles Coliseum where Southern California plays its home football games. USC is among a handful of universities that have been investigated by the NCAA over accusations its players received improper benefits.
The Trojans were slapped with a two-year bowl ban after the NCAA ruled Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo received improper benefits. Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy.
The hearing comes after a college football season tarnished by allegations of misconduct. Most notable was at Auburn with Cam Newton, whose father admitted soliciting money from Mississippi State during the recruiting process and at Ohio State where head football coach Jim Tressel failed to alert university officials that he had been made aware that players were trading autographed jerseys and other items to a tattoo parlor owner for cash and in-store discounts.
Among those who testified Thursday was former UCLA receiver J.J. Stokes who played in the National Football League for 10 seasons. Stokes recalled that when he played for the Bruins in the early 1990s, he only had about $60 left over after paying rent and utilities. For some college athletes the temptation is too great to resist money offered by an agent, he said.
"They sense that there's something missing and that something is monetary gain," Stokes said of agents. "And everybody at different levels wants an opportunity to make money and have some money in their pocket, especially a 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kid."
California, long considered a goldmine for recruiting top players, has more registered sports agents -- more than 450 -- than any other state. While California has its own law to deal with agent oversight, little is done to enforce it, officials said.
A review last year by the Associated Press found that more than half of the 42 states with sports agent laws didn't revoke or suspend a single license, or invoke penalties of any sort. Neither had the Federal Trade Commission, which was given oversight authority by Congress seven years ago.
A bill introduced earlier this year by committee chairman state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, would make it a misdemeanor if a sports agent violates the California Business and Professions Code. The legislation also calls for stiff fines.
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said the economic damage a rogue sports agent can cause is worthy of criminal penalties.
"In cases where you have an agent who is willing to risk millions and millions of dollars in sports revenues to the school and the citizens, and he's doing it repeatedly and religiously, that guy has to have some consequences happen to him when he's caught," he said.
Former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, who now heads the National College Players Association, testified that unless the NCAA changes its rules and regulations, more universities will find themselves embroiled in sports scandals.
He said scholarships need to be increased -- on average about $3,000 -- so athletes can cover their school-related expenses. Huma also said players should be able to profit from signing autographs or doing television commercials to help supplement their college income.
"Would you rather see Reggie Bush doing a Subway commercial or giving back the Heisman Trophy?" Huma asked the committee.
Others who testified were David Roberts, USC's vice president for athletic compliance, and Josh Luchs, a former sports agent who was profiled in Sports Illustrated in October when he admitted he paid more than 30 college football players between 1990 and 1996.