N.C. State's Yow warns agents

N.C. State athletic director plans a letter threatening lawsuits if agents cause Wolfpack NCAA penalties.

Staff WriterAugust 6, 2010 

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N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow chats with N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

ROBERT WILLETT — ROBERT WILLETT-rwillett@newsobserver.com

— New N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow plans to send a warning to sports agents.

In writing, Yow intends to explain to agents that if they break any laws while recruiting N.C. State athletes, the university will take legal action against the agents.

A wide-ranging NCAA investigation into possible impermissible contact between college football players and sports agents has generated headlines for weeks. NCAA investigators spent July 12 and 13 interviewing athletes at North Carolina and also have met with players at South Carolina, Alabama and Clemson.

Wednesday, investigators returned to UNC. Yow said NCAA investigators have not inquired about N.C. State athletes, but she wants to put sports agents on notice anyway.

When she was athletic director at Maryland before coming to N.C. State, Yow had university general counsel Susan Bayly send letters to sports agents registered in that state warning that the school would seek damages. Now N.C. State general counsel Eileen Goldgeier is working on a letter to be sent to agents who are registered in North Carolina. Yow said the letter will warn agents that if they violate the law while dealing with N.C. State athletes, the school will sue them.

"I'm going to protect N.C. State University from any agent abuse," Yow said.

North Carolina's Uniform Athlete Agent Act requires agents to register with the state and refrain from promising anything of value to athletes while they're in school.

After reading media reports last month that NCAA investigators had interviewed athletes at UNC regarding contact with agents, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall began an investigation of possible improprieties involving sports agents.

Violations of the law are a Class I felony in North Carolina. The law allows a civil fine of up to $25,000, but ACC commissioner John Swofford would like unscrupulous agents to face more substantial penalties.

Yow hopes the potential of a lawsuit that could extract greater damages will be an additional deterrent. The Uniform Athlete Agents Acts in North Carolina and Maryland specifically mention that an educational institution can seek damages, including lawyers' fees, from an agent (or former athlete) who injures the school.

It's difficult, however, to assign a potential dollar amount for those damages in court. It's conceivable that serious NCAA violations could, for example, force a school to give back hundreds of thousands of dollars in NCAA tournament money.

If a school is banned from bowl participation, violations could cost a school more than $1 million. But legal experts say it would be difficult to hold an agent responsible for such large amounts, because such serious penalties usually are levied only when a lack of institutional control on the part of the school accompanies the violations.

"You're going to have this question about whether the harm was caused by the action [of the agent] or by the failure of the institution effectively to control," said Paul Haagen, a Duke professor and co-director of the university's Center for Sports Law and Policy. "There would be a contributory negligence kind of thing there. That would be a difficulty [in court]."

Experts were unable to cite a case in which a school has sued an agent under the Uniform Athlete Agent Act.

University of Vermont law professor Michael McCann said there's a public relations advantage, though, in sending the letter, even if it doesn't have a big legal impact.

"Is it a good idea to send a letter?" said McCann, who specializes in sports law. "In some ways it's a deterrent. It also shows that the school cares."

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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