Last week, when Yahoo Sports revealed financial records as part of a federal probe into payments to college assistant coaches and players and their families, a slew of schools found themselves linked publicly to a sports agent who may not have been playing by the rules.
Among those schools were Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, who both had former athletes signed to Andy Miller, a longtime sports agent from the New York City area, and N.C. State University, whose star guard, Dennis Smith Jr., appeared to have received $73,500 in loans from Miller before Smith entered the university.
NCSU officials quickly responded to the report by making public a “disassociation” letter they gave Miller in 2012. But that meant for several years, Duke, UNC and many other top basketball schools had no idea NCSU had found Miller so untrustworthy he was told to stay away from the university and its athletes.
It’s raised a simple question: Why aren’t these disassociation letters made public, so everyone knows there may be a bad operator out there?
“Maybe agents and their runners have been possibly acting this way because there wasn’t a lot of sunshine on it, and even when schools found some things that were questionable they didn’t bring it to light,” said Stuart Brown, an Atlanta lawyer who specializes in NCAA matters.
UNC basketball coach Roy Williams said the letters should be shared among schools.
“Yes, it probably would be good for that to be known,” he said Thursday. He added that his basketball program has never had to disassociate with an agent “because I do try, extremely hard, to have a little cocoon to protect our players.”
The one public venue in North Carolina where schools and athletes could find out about the black mark on Miller’s reputation had no record of it. The N.C. Secretary of State’s Office regulates sports agents and requires them to report misconduct on their annual registration forms. Miller’s reports since 2012 show he wrote “No,” or “N/A (not applicable)” to the question.
Fred Demarest, NCSU’s athletics spokesman, said the university “verbally” told the NCAA about Miller’s disassociation letter. But NCSU did not contact other schools, the ACC or the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office. There’s no requirement to do so.
“A disassociation letter is specific to the university and the behaviors of a third party in relation to that university,” Demarest said. “It is not the practice of N.C. State or the ACC to share disassociation letters.”
An NCAA spokeswoman, Stacey Osburn, said: “Universities that choose to disassociate individuals outside of an infractions case do not need to notify the NCAA because it would not be a matter for the association.” She did not confirm whether the NCAA had, in fact, been notified by NCSU about Miller.
It’s unclear what the impact would have been if other schools and athletes had known about the letter. But some say what happened in Miller’s case is a strong argument for requiring schools to make disassociation letters public.
“It would seem to me logical that the school would want to let the secretary [of state] know, hey this guy is persona non grata, to protect the school,” said state Rep. Ted Davis, a Wilmington Republican who sought reforms for sports agent regulations last year. “Because what if this guy goes out and does something anyway and the school faces repercussions for it? To me that would insulate the school.”
He said having agents report the letters was like “putting the fox in the hen house.”
Many disassociation letters become public because they are tied to NCAA infractions cases. Schools either send out the letters during the investigation, or are required to send them as part of the punishment. UNC, for example, made public disassociation letters to agents, former athletes, a jeweler and a former tutor as part of the NCAA investigation into the football team in 2010. (The letter to the jeweler, Anthony Machado, didn’t stop him from making a popular “turnover chain” for the University of Miami’s football program last year.)
But others stay private. NCSU’s was one of those, though with the evidence emerging from the FBI investigation, Miller and his assistant, Christian Dawkins, 25, could end up with a torrent of disassociation letters from top schools. Dawkins never registered as an agent in North Carolina. He is among 10 people arrested in the FBI probe that include former assistant coaches and sneaker company representatives.
Representatives for Duke, NCSU and UNC said when they receive troubling information about an agent, they make sure staff and athletes know about it.
“When we learn about other schools’ disassociation letters, we pay close attention – but we also are very proactive about collecting information about agents from a variety of sources from and around the sports industry,” said Steve Kirschner, UNC’s chief athletics spokesman, in an email message. “We talk to personnel associated with the NFL and NBA. We pay attention to grievances and bankruptcies that are filed, and we gather as much information (as) we can so we can do our best to help and protect our students.”
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said through a spokesman that he supports legislation that would require schools to report the letters to the N.C. secretary of state and a rule change that requires they all go to the NCAA as well. Debbie Yow, NCSU’s athletic director, declined to comment; Demarest said such changes would require “thoughtful analysis.”
Duke has not issued any disassociation letters in more than a decade. But Todd Mesibov, Duke’s assistant athletic director for compliance, said when he comes across information about agents acting improperly he has gone beyond just making sure Duke athletes and staff know.
“Obviously there are a lot of agents who are good and professional, and there are other agents who are not,” Mesibov said. “We have shared information among schools and as a conference at times about individual situations to try to help each other.”
He did not fault NCSU for not informing other schools about Miller, and said it has a good record of cooperation in reporting agent behavior. Duke does not have a policy to automatically notify anyone beyond staff and athletes of disassociation letters. Outside notification would occur on a “case-by-case” basis, Mesibov said. He said he couldn’t comment on whether schools should be required to make the letters public.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday that he didn’t see a need for schools to share their disassociation letters.
“Whatever each school has to do they have to do,” he said.
“I personally know most of the agents. Not just because of Duke. I coached all these NBA players for 11 years,” Krzyzewski said. “I got to know all those guys. So we feel comfortable with what we’re doing. And whatever things that other schools have to do that they feel a need to do it, they do it. And I really don’t try to pay any attention to that.”
NCSU barred Miller from its nonpublic areas of athletic facilities and from contacting staff and athletes for a 10-year period after learning from NCAA reports that he had a close working relationship with an AAU coach who was the subject of an internal investigation in 2010. NCSU said in the letter that when it asked Miller about the coach at the time that Miller denied any association.
“In light of the foregoing information and in order to decrease the potential of future violations, NC State is disassociating both you and any businesses that you own from our intercollegiate athletics program effective as of the date of this letter,” wrote Carrie Doyle, NCSU’s senior associate athletics director for compliance.
News reports from then show the NCAA barred the AAU coach, Desmond Eastmond, and three others from NCAA-certified summer basketball events because they had an association with Miller, which is against the rules barring agents from involvement with amateur teams like the AAU clubs. The NCAA released an email from Miller to Eastmond and the other AAU coaches in which he criticized them for not recruiting enough potential top NBA picks.
It’s unclear how many other colleges saw that NCAA action towards the Miller-connected AAU coaches as reason to break ties with Miller.
At the time, Miller represented 39 basketball players, including NCSU alum JJ Hickson and UNC alum Brendan Haywood, according to his registration form filed with the N.C. secretary of state. By 2016, he was listing 48, including Duke alum Austin Rivers and UNC alum Brice Johnson.
The bottom fell out last year, as he listed six players, including Duke alum Frank Jackson, on the registration he sent in July. He became linked to the federal investigation two months later and relinquished his NBA agent certification by the end of the year.
Brown, the attorney specializing in NCAA compliance, said it can be hard for schools to track all the access points agents have with athletes, especially when they are in high school. Agents can go through family members or friends, or use runners who can stay under a university’s radar.
That appears to have been what happened at NCSU. Three years after issuing the disassociation letter, documents from Miller’s firm showed Smith receiving the loans, Yahoo reported. Yahoo has also made public a 2016 email between Dawkins and Miller referring to phone conversations with then-NCSU basketball coach Mark Gottfried and two assistant coaches. Gottfried and the assistant coaches left NCSU last year after a losing season. Gottfried could not be reached for comment.
NCSU officials say they had not issued a disassociation letter for Dawkins. Demarest, NCSU’s athletics spokesman, said the administration was unaware of Dawkins, who worked for Miller from 2015 to 2017.
Staff writers Jonathan Alexander and Andrew Carter contributed to this report.
The story so far
On Sept. 26, the FBI and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York announced the arrests of 10 men, including four assistant basketball coaches at Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and the University of Southern California, after a two-year investigation involving payments to steer athletes to sports agents, financial advisers, the Adidas athletic apparel company and a clothing company owner. (Charges were later dropped against one defendant, a former AAU director.) Among those arrested was Christian Dawkins, 25, an associate of longtime sports agent Andy Miller. The investigation also found that an Adidas company executive agreed to pay $100,000 to a recruit to entice him to commit to Louisville; that news cost coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich their jobs.
On Feb. 23, Yahoo Sports revealed documents in the case that suggest Dawkins and Miller made payments to numerous players and their families at prominent Division I schools, including Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, Xavier and Wichita State. Dawkins also listed meetings with players or their families at several other schools, including Duke and UNC. Duke later said there were no “eligibility issues” related to the report. The information regarding two former UNC athletes suggests Dawkins may have paid for a meal, which is a minor violation.