By David Brandt/The Associated Press
While Cam Newton is crisscrossing the country picking up postseason awards, representatives of the Mississippi secretary of state’s office are heading to Illinois to interview the man at the center of the infamous pay-for-play scandal involving the quarterback.
The officials want to talk with Kenny Rogers to see if Agent Act laws were violated during Newton’s recruitment. Rogers, the former Mississippi State player who the NCAA ruled assisted Newton’s father with the failed payment scheme to get his son to sign with that school, is scheduled to meet with officials Thursday in Waukegan, Ill.
“We’ll certainly cooperate and answer whatever questions they ask,” said Doug Zeit, Rogers’ attorney and whose offices are in Waukegan. “Kenny Rogers isn’t hiding anything from anybody.”
The ongoing Newton investigation has involved everyone from the NCAA to the FBI, though the Auburn quarterback has been cleared to play by the NCAA as the top-ranked Tigers (13-0) prepare to face No. 2 Oregon (12-0) for the national championship on Jan. 10.
The Agent Act has been on the books for years, though it’s rare for anyone to be prosecuted.
An Associated Press review this summer found that more than half of the 42 states with sports agent laws had yet to revoke or suspend a single license, or invoke penalties of any sort.
However, the Newton case — along with the high-profile case engulfing the North Carolina football program — has prompted state-level officials to be more aggressive in investigating alleged improper athlete-agent relationships.
The Mississippi secretary of state’s office enforces regulations under the Uniform Athlete Agent Act, which governs sports agents. Violators in Mississippi face up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, along with additional civil penalties, though penalties vary state to state.
The Agent Act requires agents to register with the state, and prohibits them from giving anything of value directly or indirectly to a student-athlete. The act also requires sports agents to notify university officials if a contract has been made with an athlete.
But it’s a law that really hasn’t been enforced recently.
Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi secretary of state’s office, said no one has been prosecuted under the Uniform Agent Act over the past three years. Weaver said Rogers is not a registered agent in Mississippi.
Rogers, who previously worked for NFL agent Ian Greengross, has said that he met with Cam’s father, Cecil Newton, and two Mississippi State assistant coaches at the Hilton Garden Inn in Starkville, Miss., on Nov. 27, 2009, where Newton said it would take up to $180,000 to secure his son’s commitment to Mississippi State. The coaches reportedly declined the solicitation.
Bus Cook, a certified agent in Mississippi who represents about 25 current NFL players, said he supports the Athlete Agent Act. But he acknowledges that enforcement would be difficult.
“I’m absolutely all for it,” Cook said. “But who is going to enforce it? The secretary of state doesn’t have the manpower to run around looking for people violating the act. So that means it falls on other agents or the universities to turn people in. That makes it difficult.”
Universities might not be eager to file complaints against violators. By opening up cases to the secretary of state or other law enforcement, there could be unsavory details revealed that when a person must testify under oath.
“Once you open that door,” Cook said, “it’s awfully hard to shut it.”
The North Carolina secretary of state’s office is continuing its investigation, which launched in July shortly after news of the NCAA investigation at North Carolina became public. Spokesman George Jeter wrote told The Associated Press in an e-mail that no one in the state had been charged under the Agent Act dating back to at least the late 1990s.
There have been few public details or comments from the office, though it has interviewed NFL agent Gary Wichard, former UNC assistant coach John Blake and former UNC defensive tackle Marvin Austin — who was dismissed from the team — among others.
In Alabama, Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska said Tuesday he had no comment on the Cam Newton case. He said the attorney general’s office has not been contacted to do anything on the Newton case.
But there is precedent for enforcement in Alabama.
In October, a judge issued an arrest warrant for Virginia sports agent Raymond Savage Jr., who failed to appear in court on a charge linked to former Alabama football star Tyrone Prothro.
Savage didn’t show up in Tuscaloosa to answer a reduced charge of initiating contact with Prothro while he was still playing at ‘Bama, and said he was under doctor’s order not to travel.
Savage was charged with violating Alabama state laws involving sports agents. He is accused of sending an employee to visit Prothro while the player was in the hospital after suffering a leg fracture that ended his playing career in 2005.
Valeska said Savage had agreed to plead to a misdemeanor with a $2,000 fine. Under the plea, Savage would have been restricted from traveling into Alabama, banned from dealing with any athletes from the state, and required not to contact Prothro or any witnesses.
Alabama State Sen. Gerald Allen, who sponsored the state’s agent law when he was in the House, isn’t sure it applies in Newton’s case.
“I’ve been following this pretty closely,” Allen said. “The sports agent law has not been violated anywhere in Alabama or Mississippi, from what I can tell.”
Don Jackson, a Montgomery, Ala., based attorney who has represented several athletes in NCAA investigations, said any university would have to weigh the benefits with the risk of pushing for a investigation that could tarnish a school.
“Bottom line: Is it worth it?” Jackson said. “Worst case scenario, you’re probably looking at a guy getting probation and paying a fine. He’ll walk home that day.”
Jackson said a bigger deterrent for agents would be action from organizations like the NFLPA, which recently suspended Wichard for nine months for his role in the North Carolina scandal.
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Raleigh, N.C., and John Zenor in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this story.