RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — With agent conduct a major part of the federal corruption investigation into college basketball, the commission charged with finding reforms wants the NCAA to actively monitor agents and provide regulated ways for them to advise athletes on their professional prospects.
The Commission on College Basketball proposed Wednesday that the NCAA develop "strict standards" for certifying agents, who would be allowed to interact with players as early as high school as long as they followed rules prohibiting them from providing improper benefits or entering into representation deals with the athletes.
The NCAA would appoint a vice presidential position to develop and administer the certification program, which would be limited to certain periods of the year.
"The NCAA should bring these conversations into the light and allow elite players to discuss their prospects with (certified agents)," the report said.
Robert F. Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice, is an NCAA reform advocate who believes college athletes should be allowed to have agents. He thinks the proposal should go further to look out for athletes' interests beyond simply determining whether to go pro.
"We're going to certify agents and they can give you advice, but there's no contractual relationship," Orr said, adding that the proposals are "woefully inadequate" in allowing athletes to access agents for advice on a wider range of topics.
"There are other considerations, injuries — 'I don't think you should play in this bowl game because you run the risk of completely diminishing (prospects),'" Orr said.
The current FBI case involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school, agent or apparel company.
The commission led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recommends that agents who violate rules lose NCAA certification or be banned from the newly proposed NCAA-certified non-scholastic basketball events such as elite youth basketball tournaments.
Lastly, the commission says states should "both enact and enforce" laws barring agents from unethical conduct such as luring college athletes into contracts by providing them money, gifts or other items of value. A version of the Uniform Athlete Agents Act has been enacted in at least 40 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Efforts are underway across the country to adopt a strengthened version of the law because cases have long been difficult to prosecute due to limited resources and modest penalties.
WHY IT COULD WORK: This could be a win-win by rewarding agents who follow rules and creating more avenues to provide information for athletes seeking to make informed choices about their NBA opportunities — something the commission noted is needed for high school and college athletes alike. And getting cooperation from the National Basketball Players Association when it comes to punishing violators could offer a deterrent.
WHY IT WOULDN'T WORK: It won't eliminate all unethical agent conduct, with the commission acknowledging that contact "can lead to illicit payments and other rule violations." And some agents stated this could lead to even earlier contact with athletes as agents jockey for a head start on their competition.
WHY IT'S KEY TO THE SCANDAL: As the commission notes, athletes and their families seeking information on their pro prospects "will find that information one way or another."
"Generally I think it is a positive for ... athletes to be able to have greater access to information and with less fear about committing a violation that jeopardizes eligibility," said Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who has worked with schools on compliance issues.
"The more sunlight and above-board communication that can be taking place is good for the process."
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