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NCAA tackles agents issue, looks to new sanctions

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Several groups are working with the NCAA to find new ways to enforce rules prohibiting improper agent-related benefits for student-athletes, including possible post-NCAA financial penalties that reach into a player's potential NFL career.

The NFL, NFL Players Association and sports agents are among those involved in talks with the NCAA that have included various proposals.

Chicago-based sports agent Rick Smith, a member of the NCAA panel, said Monday that while discussions are preliminary, new rules could be in place within three to five months. Such rules would likely be enforced primarily by the NFL and the players' union.

"Something is going to happen," Smith said, "and it's going to happen quickly."

In a news release, the Indianapolis-based NCAA said the panel is identifying areas for "greater collaboration," including enforcement efforts by state officials dealing with sports agent laws and examining "the frequency and timing of agent contact with student-athletes." Smith said the panel is looking at a range of possible sanctions.

Among the NCAA panel members: NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson, Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian, Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany and Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive.

The NCAA said panel members met last week and will speak again next month.

Panel member Grant Teaff, the former Baylor coach and executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said improper benefits and contact between agents and college players have been a problem "since agents started being agents."

"Maybe for the first time, we can have everybody singing out of the same hymn book," Teaff said.

The agent issue has touched several schools including defending national champion Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia in recent months, but nowhere has the impact been felt more than North Carolina. The NCAA launched its investigation here over the summer, then expanded the probe to include possible academic misconduct.

Six Tar Heels won't play this season due to the probe, including three of their most prominent names in defensive tackle Marvin Austin, defensive end Robert Quinn and receiver Greg Little. The NCAA declared Quinn and Little "permanently ineligible" for each receiving more than $4,900 in improper benefits from agents, while Austin was kicked off the team after the NCAA provided preliminary information that he had received $10,000 to $13,000 in benefits.

Coach Butch Davis called the NCAA panel discussions "an important step."

"There's not one single entity that can solve this issue," Davis said. "It's going to take a lot of people. There's an answer some place, and we've just got to work hard to try to find it."

The North Carolina Secretary of State's office launched its own probe shortly after the NCAA investigation to examine whether the state's sports agent laws were broken. Austin, former assistant coach John Blake — who resigned in September — California-based agent Gary Wichard have spoken with investigators in that probe, which is still ongoing.

"A lot of this stuff that has gone in at several institutions has been going on for a long time," Davis said. "The unfortunate thing is the NCAA doesn't have an army. They can't investigate every single thing that goes on."

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  • Easy solution
    There is an easy solution to the so-called agent problem afflicting college sports -- allow the athletes to hire agents. If having an agent were permissible, no rule would be violated when a student-athlete has one. If agents were providing the players with cash and other goodies, that would bump up against other amateurism rules, but if hiring agents was done above board and out in the open, there would be far fewer situations like that.

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