Former agent’s admission shines light on NCAA enforcement

The NCAA can’t eliminate improprieties between college football players and sports agents alone, and needs the help of former players, coaches and the National Football League, a spokesman for the Indianapolis-based organization acknowledged on Wednesday.

The NCAA’s efforts to enforce rules barring players from accepting benefits from agents have come under fire from sports analysts following the recent admission by a former agent that he paid players.

Josh Luchs told Sports Illustrated for its Oct. 18 issue that he paid more than 30 players from 1990 to 1996, including many who didn’t sign with him.

College athletics has been rife with scandals and shady dealings for years. But Luchs’ confession perhaps shines the brightest light on an enforcement system that some say is ineffective.

“You’ve got to get everyone on the same page working together,” ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said on the "Mike & Mike in the Morning" radio program. “The NCAA is outmanned.”

Herbstreit, echoing the sentiments of NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn, said college football coaches and the NCAA need to work more closely together to prevent unscrupulous agents from getting access to players.

Luchs once worked with Gary Wichard, the agent linked to the investigation of NCAA violations at North Carolina. The university kicked one player off the team on Monday while the NCAA declared two others “permanently ineligible” amid an ongoing investigation into whether players received improper benefits from agents, according to Associated Press.

And, last month, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush returned the 2005 Heisman Trophy he received while at the University of Southern California. An NCAA investigation concluded that he and his family received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from sports agents when he played for USC.

“We have a strong understanding that there are issues out there,” Osburn said. “We also know there isn’t an easy solution, and it’s going to require collaboration and cooperation from a lot of different groups.”

The Indianapolis-based NCAA has jurisdiction over athletes but not agents, who are certified by the National Football League Players Association.

Osburn said the NCAA the past summer began engaging the NFL and its players association, as well as former players, agents, scouts and coaches to bolster its enforcement efforts.

Herbstreit suggested the NCAA mandate that college football programs appoint someone on staff to specifically monitor player-agent relationships.

Michael Wilbon, a co-host of ESPN’s "Pardon the Interruption" television show, went a step further and lobbied the NCAA to let colleges pay their football players a small, monthly stipend.

“Most of these [player] payments are for 100, 200, 300 bucks,” he said. “If you take away the taboo, there won’t be the attraction.”

Critics of that proposal say payments of any type would create a slippery slope.

The NCAA began devoting employees solely to enforcing player-agent rules more than 10 years ago, Osburn said. The staff of seven is part of a larger NCAA enforcement team consisting of 46 employees.

The proliferation of social networking has given the NCAA an additional tool to investigate potential violations, with Twitter and Facebook accounts, in particular, often providing a trail of evidence.

Said Osburn: “It’s definitely influenced our ability to gather information.”

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