ACC leader targets sports agents

John Swofford said college athletics officials can't combat unscrupulous agents on their own.

With the school he once served as athletic director under investigation because of possible improprieties with agents, the ACC commissioner on Sunday laid out a comprehensive list of ideas to bring the agent problem under control.

Swofford, a former University of North Carolina athletic director, said the NCAA, law enforcement, legislators and the NBA and NFL players' associations may need to help keep rogue agents in check.

In his opening address at the ACC football media kickoff on Sunday, Swofford said:

* The NCAA may need to put more funds toward beefing up its investigative staff.

* North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall's investigation of possible improprieties by agents is "a huge plus." "I'd like to see more of that," Swofford said.

* Uniform Athlete Agent Act statutes in states throughout the nation need to be strengthened. Thirty-eight states have such laws, designed to protect athletes when they're students from agents who can compromise their eligibility. Swofford said the largest fine that can result from running afoul of such a law is $25,000. "I think it needs to be higher," he said.

* The players' associations of the NBA and NFL could help college athletic officials by sanctioning agents - or "runners" who work for agents - who act inappropriately.

Swofford said it's difficult for coaches and athletic directors to keep the agent problem in check. He said athletes and schools often get punished for inappropriate contact while agents don't.

"By and large, with very few exceptions, the people that don't pay a price for it are the agents and runners who are instigating this," Swofford said.

The ACC's media kickoff usually is a time for coaches, players and conference officials to look ahead to the season. This year, the subject matter was largely directed toward the agent issue because of what appears to be a wide-ranging NCAA investigation that has prominently included UNC.

Investigators visited campus July 12 and 13 to interview players. Tar Heels wide receiver Greg Little's father has acknowledged that Little was interviewed; The News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer also confirmed that North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin was interviewed.

Swofford didn't discuss the North Carolina investigation specifically but spent a large portion of his commissioner's forum addressing the agent issue. He said schools need to "educate, educate, educate" their athletes about agents, and he said the ACC schools do a good job of that.

Players forfeit their eligibility if they agree to allow an agent represent them, and they are not allowed to accept anything of value from agents. Penalties range from athletes having to repay what they have received to suspension to permanent ineligibility.

Swofford said coaches and athletic officials need to be vigilant for problems with agents and need to promote a culture of integrity. And if something still goes wrong, Swofford said, school officials can't turn a blind eye.

"When you have a problem, deal with it," he said. "And deal with it effectively."