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Universities must report rogue sports agents

NC State SmithNBA Basketball

North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr. (4) shoots against North Carolina during the the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh in February 2017. Smith, the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year, now plays in the NBA after one season with the Wolfpack.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

You could call it the $73,500 question. That’s the amount former NCSU basketball star Dennis Smith Jr. is alleged to have owed sports agent Andy Miller.

The question: When a university’s athletics department severs ties with a sports agent, should it be required to tell the N.C. Secretary of State’s office, which regulates agents?

In North Carolina, universities aren’t required to notify the state; the agent is supposed to report misconduct on his annual registration form. Not surprisingly, they don’t always, if ever.

In the Miller case, NCSU in 2012 banned him from its property and said he was to have no contact with Wolfpack athletes. NCSU had found Miller to be dishonest. Miller had denied a relationship with a certain youth coach but the NCAA, which governs college sports, determined that Miller had a relationship with the coach.

NCSU then wrote Miller a letter separating itself from him. But Miller did not report that on his annual agent registration forms with the state. 

This issue arose recently when Yahoo Sports published documents obtained as part of an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. The documents appear to show that Miller’s company paid Smith $73,500 in hopes he would hire it to represent him when he turned professional. Smith, who went to high school in Fayetteville, did not hire Miller.

Upon notification of the issue, NCSU responded that it had cut ties with Miller more than five years ago.

Putting sports agents on the honor system isn’t going to work. Other universities need to know if a university has found an agent acted improperly; it can help them shield their athletes from unscrupulous operators. The benefits of this are clear, which is why UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham supports requiring schools to report separation letters to the N.C. Secretary of State and the NCAA. UNC coach Roy Williams also supports the idea.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who typically has a good handle on these sorts of issues, shot an air ball when he said recently he doesn’t see the need for schools to share their so-called “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. I got to know all those guys. So we feel comfortable with what we’re doing.”

That misses the point. Krzyzewski, the men’s Division I basketball coach with the most career wins, has been at Duke for 37 years. He might be comfortable with his knowledge of agents. But other, less experienced coaches who’ve moved around the country from program to program don’t have Krzyzewski’s connections or stature, and no doubt would like to know if another university has had issues with an agent. That could prevent a lot of problems, including NCAA penalties and even a criminal investigation.

NCSU spokesman Brad Bohlander said the issue needs to be discussed: “Sharing disassociations would only be effective if there were thoughtful discussions and analyses to develop and build enforcement structures and rules surrounding a level of consistency and uniformity in agent conduct susceptible to transparency, oversight and enforcement.”

That can be done but requiring the separation letters be sent to the state is a good first step. A U.S. attorney has brought charges against four assistant basketball coaches and six other men, one of whom was an associate of Andy Miller. Now more than ever, college sports needs to get as many operators as possible out of the shadows.

The News & Observer of Raleigh

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