With all due respect to baseball, the game that captivates our nation in the 21st Century like no other is football. Make that, American Football. In 2009, we were all "captivated" by the professional game to the tune of about 8.5 billion dollars. That's roughly how much the NFL alone took in through revenue. Factor in the league's year-round schedule and skilled marketing efforts, and there's little doubt that the NFL is king.
As NFL stadiums across the country opened their gates this month, the 2010 season kicked off - and the king is now officially holding court again. That's welcomed news. From those whose livelihoods are tied to the professional game to the millions of patrons who simply can't get enough of the product, we're collectively thankful for the game's return. And with the league's collective bargaining agreement with its players set to expire next March and a 2011 lockout looming, this season's campaign is certainly one to savor.
Nevertheless, there's one matter that warrants the league's attention sooner rather than later and shouldn't be lost in the shuffle. Before this season's final whistle blows, the league desperately needs to do its part to address a broken system that allows rogue sports agents to play fast and loose with the rules and face little or no consequences.
Earlier this summer, sports headlines were dominated by reports of an agent sponsored-party held at Miami Beach over the Memorial Day weekend. Questions about a handful of college football players possibly in attendance led to NCAA probes at a number of high-profile Division I programs. With the NCAA's expansive investigation still underway, it's already resulted in a start to the college football season marked by benchings and uncertainty at the schools affected.
The college players and programs involved are rightly paying the price for the Memorial Day mayhem and may well have penalties in their future to boot. The NCAA will make the call, and that's just how it should be. But what about the agents who held the party in the first place? Think their punishment will be harsh? Don't count on it.
Almost 85% of our states have laws on the books to regulate the practices of sports agents and help shield the amateur athletes who engage in collegiate sports from outside advances. But according to a recent Associated Press report, not one sports agent license has been suspended or revoked through any of the state laws. Zero. In fact, these laws haven't yielded a single penalty of any kind against anyone.
When it comes to policing rogue sports agents, the states have shown no interest in enforcing their laws. The Federal Trade Commission, which technically has oversight authority, has also turned a blind eye to the industry's bad actors. And while many have called on the NCAA to pick up the enforcement mantle, it would seem they have their hands full as it is. Who's left? How about the organization which actually has the most leverage of all in this universe: the NFL.
If the teams of the NFL and its players association (the NFLPA) announced tomorrow that their doors were closed - even temporarily - to any sports agent linked to activities resulting in NCAA infractions, my guess is you'd see a sharp reduction in misadventures like the one conducted in Miami Beach last May. With the threat of suspended or revoked agent certifications from the NFLPA and no front office access from the league's clubs, the risks associated with reckless behavior would far outweigh any reward.
Make no mistake, bringing the NFL and NFLPA together at such a tenuous time would be no small feat. But considering the importance of the issue and shared interest in protecting future professionals' careers, the common ground is as rock solid as the turf of Lambeau Field in mid-December.
Yep, the NFL is king. Now it's time for the king to get off the sidelines and tackle these rogue sports agents once and for all.
Duke Hipp is a conservative and president and CEO of Impact Sport Communications, LLC in South Carolina.