Copyright 2013 The Durham Herald Co.
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The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.)
October 6, 2013 Sunday
LOCAL NEWS; D; Pg. 6
|Scandal's spotlight continues
Indictments handed up last week by an Orange County grand jury have removed the slightest shred of doubt that the troubles surrounding UNC Chapel Hill athletics will continue in the spotlight for some time to come.
A scandal that first unfolded in 2010 and resulted in NCAA sanctions against the university's football program has spilled into the courts - where the penalties can involve fines and potentially jail time.
The first indictment to be made public charges Jennifer Wiley Thompson with inducing athletes to sign with professional sports agents. She is charged with funneling $3,308 from agent Terry Watson to Greg Little - a wide receiver who was declared ineligible during the NCAA investigation of improprieties in the program. Little, a star at Hillside High School before his truncated Tar Heel career, now plays for the Cleveland Browns.
Thompson's lawyers maintain her innocence, and as attorney Elliot Abrams pointed out, an indictment is not evidence of guilt. As always, Thompson is due a presumption of innocence until and unless a court finds otherwise.
Both sides in this case are in uncharted legal waters. Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall says this is the first time anyone has been charged under North Carolina's law that requires sports agents to register and prohibits them from giving money to players.
The details of the indictment paint a picture of a fairly low-grade scheme to mask the payments allegedly made by Watson to Little. In one instance, the prosecutors charge, Thompson received $20,000 in a FedEx package and handed it over to Little.
Woodall is making a bold move to pioneer prosecution under the state's Uniform Athlete Agents Act - he believes it may be the first such prosecution in the country.
The act and this prosecution attempt to stem intense competition driven, as these things so often are, by the flood of money involved. High-profile college athletes stand to land substantial contracts as they start their professional careers - which means a healthy payday for the agent who represents them.
Agents, then, are hustling for an edge. And pumping a few thousand dollars into a college athlete's hands under the table can be a shrewd investment for an agent if a blue-chip player retains him.
Add to that a major-college sports scene in which athletes who are earning millions for their universities get nothing more than room, board and tuition - and temptation begins to loom large on both sides.
We'll have plenty of opportunity to see these issues explored in the courtroom if these cases go to trial - it's widely expected indicted agents will be arrested and charged any day.
This drama adds to the turmoil in major-college sports. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski told the Durham Sports Club last week that big changes are coming in NCAA oversight. He predicts they will be "very positive changes for schools and student athletes."
He says the current wave of scandals "provide an excellent opportunity to right the ship."
The tales that we expect will emerge as Woodall's cases proceed against sports agents will underscore how crucial it is to right that ship.
October 7, 2013