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Bill would impose hefty fine for harming athlete eligibility

Posted: November 26, 2014 - 12:09am

ATLANTA — An Augusta-area legislator is sponsoring House Bill 3 to impose a hefty fine on anyone jeopardizing the eligibility of a student-athlete, as happened when a sports-memorabilia broker paid University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley for his autograph.

The bill has the same number as Gurley’s jersey at the request of House Speaker David Ralston, according to the sponsor, Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem.

Fleming discussed his idea with the speaker, who thought it important enough to be pre-filed as the first House bill but then figured the symbolism of matching the jersey was more appropriate.

Pre-filing began this week in advance of the legislative session that starts Jan. 12.

“Everybody was just a little bit put out, to say the least,” Fleming said Thursday.

Gurley, once a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, had to sit out four games when UGA officials learned of him selling his autograph, which is an infraction of the National Collegiate Athletic Association rules designed to ensure that athletes remain amateurs. Ironically, Gurley injured his left leg in the closing minutes of his first game back from suspension, causing him to miss the rest of the season.

Gurley was adequately punished, Fleming said, but the autograph dealer should have had to suffer, too. It’s similar to how the law punishes both the buyers and the sellers of illegal drugs, he argued.

“A 20-year-old in college is not a child, but that 20 -year-old is (vulnerable), particularly if they are from a humble background, if someone waves hundred-dollar bills in front of his face,” the legislator said.

The version of the bill awaiting formal introduction would make it a felony with a maximum $25,000 fine, but Fleming said he intends to dial that back to an aggravated misdemeanor with a $5,000 max.

He wants the penalty to be significant enough to ensure anyone in the future would not be able to profit.

There is no way to change the law now to punish the businessman Gurley dealt with under the state constitution’s prohibition against retroactive legislation.

The General Assembly enacted a similar law in 2003 that allows colleges to sue any alumnus whose actions endanger the school’s eligibility for bowls, scholarships and such under NCAA rules. Fleming said that wouldn’t apply in Gurley’s case.

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