UNC football, the NCAA and the NC five

The New York TimesNovember 26, 2013 

The Uniform Athlete Agents Act was a bill drafted 13 years ago at the urging of the NCAA. The drafters were members of something called the Uniform Law Commission, whose job it is to propose model legislation that the states can then adopt if they so choose. Today, 41 states have the law, or some variant of it, on their books.

The law essentially criminalizes most contact between sports agents and college athletes – something that heretofore had merely been a violation of NCAA rules. Agents who give athletes money are now violating the law. “Runners” who act as go-betweens for agents are violating the law. Agents who don’t announce to the university that they want to talk to an enrolled athlete are violating the law. It is a measure of how good a job the NCAA has done in brainwashing the country that the simple act of handing money to – or giving advice to – a college student is now against the law in most of the country when the recipient happens to play a sport.

(And you wonder why so many college football and men’s basketball players come out of school so ill-equipped for life? According to Sports Illustrated, some 78 percent of professional football players are either bankrupt or in serious financial trouble within two years of their retirement. Maybe if the NCAA encouraged players to get agents while they were still in school, instead of criminalizing such contact, athletes would be a little better prepared for what comes afterward.)

Still, on anyone’s list of criminal activities, slipping a few bucks to the middle linebacker has to rank pretty low. Which perhaps explains why, so far as I can tell, no one had ever been indicted before for violating the law.

Until last month, that is. That’s when Jim Woodall, the top prosecutor in Orange County, N.C., egged on by the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office, which had conducted a lengthy investigation, indicted five people for funneling “illegal” benefits to three former University of North Carolina football players.


At the center of this “conspiracy” is a small-time agent named Terry Watson, who, in 2010, is alleged to have given the three athletes in question a total of around $24,000. What he hoped for was that the players would use him as their agent when they went pro. (They didn’t.) The charge is “athlete agent inducement.”

The other four were indicted on charges of being the supposed go-betweens. It is one of those alleged go-betweens I want to briefly focus on. It used to be that the NCAA could wreck the lives only of athletes.

Between 2007 and 2009, Jennifer Wiley Thompson was an academic adviser for North Carolina athletes. Her original crime, in the eyes of the NCAA, was giving athletes a little too much help. She wasn’t writing papers for them, but she was helping them make them better. When the football team became mired in a scandal in 2010, the help she had given became public knowledge. She, in turn, became a focal point in the news media. She not only lost her position as an academic adviser, but she lost her day job teaching grade school kids.

She has since lost a second job – and now faces the prospect of jail time for allegedly passing money to a player for plane tickets. “They are doing this because she helped people with their homework?” said Joseph Cheshire, her lawyer. “It is ridiculous. We don’t see where she broke the law. We’re going to war on this.”

It is a war well worth waging. There is virtually no precedent to look to, so this case is likely to determine whether this law has any teeth. If the Orange County district attorney succeeds in prosecuting the North Carolina five, it will mean that other prosecutors, in other jurisdictions, will follow suit. Going after someone who has tainted dear old State U. will be irresistible.

If, on the other hand, the cases go to trial and they are found not guilty, the law will be rendered meaningless.

Meanwhile, in late October, a committee of the Uniform Law Commission met in Chicago to discuss revisions to – what else? – the Uniform Athlete Agents Act. According to Richard T. Cassidy, who writes the blog “On Lawyering,” the plan is to “expand the scope of the law and improve its effectiveness.” One proposal is to have the law cover high school and even elementary school athletes.

Thus does the long arm of the NCAA get that much longer.

The New York Times

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