AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Violation of sports agent laws tough for states to prosecute

Leave a comment

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The complex schemes to get first dibs on teenage athletes with pro potential can resemble the drug trade.

There are sophisticated mazes of runners acting as go-betweens separating athletes from unscrupulous sports agents and financial advisers. Unraveling those ties to get at the corruption in college sports takes time, money and dedicated manpower — resources often in limited supply for authorities seeking to enforce sports agent laws that exist in at least 40 states.

These laws are designed to regulate agents’ conduct, deter them from providing college athletes with eligibility-jeopardizing improper benefits and punish violators. But state-level investigators and prosecutors face a dilemma of how these cases fit in when violent crimes and high-level felonies fill court schedules as clear priorities.

“If (lawmakers) decide something’s a high-level felony, that’s going to get more attention,” said Jim Woodall, a North Carolina district attorney whose office got a criminal conviction under the law this year. “And in these athlete agent cases, what we’re usually looking at is a Class I felony, which is the lowest we have in North Carolina.

“Even though it’s a felony, it’s still a very low-level felony and we can’t justify the resources and time it would take to prosecute those cases when we have other higher-priority cases that we have to deal with.”

The recent federal fraud and bribery scandal that rocked college basketball led to charges in September against 10 people, including four power-conference assistant coaches. Eight defendants face charges carrying a maximum 80 years in prison while two face up to 200 years, though they likely would face sentences measured in years rather than decades if convicted.

Arizona and Southern California, which had assistant coaches charged in the scandal, are ranked No. 3 and No. 10 respectively in The Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll that had Duke No. 1. Two other schools entangled in the federal probe, No. 13 Miami and No. 16 Louisville, are also ranked.

The charges against the assistants came amid an ongoing two-year investigation that included wiretaps and help from a cooperating insider .

The investigation showed how much work goes into untangling those murky connections. It also showed that authorities possess results-producing tools — such as search warrants and subpoenas — the NCAA just doesn’t have.

That explains why two major figures in college sports — Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford and Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey — recently told The Associated Press they support authorities pursuing these cases.

“There’s clearly a role for the states,” Sankey said.

Swofford would prefer a federal law instead of relying on states.

“It’s understandable that it’s difficult,” Swofford said. “It’s one thing to have the law. It’s another thing to really put it into service, so to speak, because of the lack of resources and manpower at the state level.”

In North Carolina, Woodall’s office is still prosecuting cases investigated by the Secretary of State’s office since 2010 into whether agents or runners broke state law by providing Tar Heels football players with improper benefits . The stiffest penalty so far came in a plea deal for former NFL agent Terry Watson, who received probation, a $5,000 fine and a suspended jail sentence.

It’s hard to find many examples nationally of criminal prosecution for violations of the Uniform Athlete Agents Act — Woodall can’t name another. A version of the UAAA exists in at least 40 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That’s according to the Uniform Law Commission (ULC), an organization that works to standardize state laws.

There have also been separate agent laws in California, Michigan and Ohio, according to the NCAA.

Woodall said North Carolina authorities have notified other states of relevant information from their investigation, but believes “most of them just don’t pursue these criminally.”

“There was at least one state when we contacted them,” Woodall said, “they said, ‘We do pursue these things’ but … they had something like a $25,000 fine associated with it, and they just collected the fines.”

The Uniform Athlete Agents Act’s structure and penalties can vary from state to state. Created in 2000, it typically requires agents to register with states and prohibits them from luring collegiate athletes into contracts by providing them money, gifts or other items of value.

There have been efforts to create harsher penalties.

The ULC strengthened the act in 2015 by broadening the scope of who falls under its requirements and recommending a higher financial penalty. The changes include requiring schools to report violations to authorities, potentially leading to more prosecutions.

Work is underway to get state legislatures to adopt the updated act. It has been enacted in eight states and introduced in seven others this year, according to the ULC.

Dale G. Higer, who helped craft the revised act, hopes headlines from the federal case can help beef up the state laws. His goal: have the updated act adopted in more than half the states by 2020.

“I think part of it depends on how far the legislatures want to go in terms of penalties for violating the act,” said Higer, an attorney from Boise, Idaho. “To me, the more serious ones should be felonies where jail time would be the result of violating the act. But some legislatures may not want to go that far.”

Alabama and Tennessee adopted the updated act last year. Alabama deputy attorney general Brent Beal and Tennessee Secretary of State’s office spokesman Adam Ghassemi told the AP that officials sought to regulate more than simply agents.

“They broadened that,” Beal said, “which we hope will … give it more teeth and to actually get people that have done things to ensnare student-athletes into something that they wouldn’t have knowingly gotten into.”

Ghassemi declined to comment on past or current cases, noting the Tennessee office is authorized to investigate and “assess appropriate civil penalties” outlined in the statute.

“We can affirm that we have exercised these powers under the Act,” Ghassemi said in an email. “The good news is that we have a large slate of athlete agents who are registered with our office, and we believe that the vast majority of them are acting in good faith and following the law.”

But there is enough unethical agent conduct that schools are desperate for help.

Athletics officials from 66 schools in 32 states — including numerous power-conference programs — and five NFL agents signed onto a 2013 memo pushing for stronger penalties and a broader reach in the UAAA’s update. The NCAA and former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne also issued statements supporting it.

“I think law enforcement should be involved,” Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey said. “I mean, there’s no question about it. And of course law enforcement sure is involved now, aren’t they? … Yeah, if there can be another layer there, there should be. Because it’s criminal activity, it really is.”

Whatever happens in courtrooms, Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes said it comes down to individuals because no law plugs every hole.

“I’ve also been in it long enough to know that if people want to get to somebody,” Barnes said, “they’re going to figure out a way to try to get to somebody.”

___

AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Nashville, Tennessee; and John Zenor in Montgomery, Alabama; contributed to this report.

___

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter @aaronbeardap

VIDEO: Mike Brey celebrates Maui win shirtless

@NDmbb
Leave a comment

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey celebrated his team’s win in the Maui Invitational by going shirtless in the team locker room:

This came after Brey spent the entire tournament coaching in shorts and a t-shirt:

Mike Brey (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

I think it’s safe to say Brey enjoyed himself on the islands.

No. 13 Notre Dame lands come-from-behind win to beat No. 6 Wichita State in Maui

Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
1 Comment

Notre Dame led twice during Wednesday night’s Maui Invitational title game.

At 4-2, and, after Martinas Geben hit the second of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left, at 67-66.

That score would end up being the final, as the 13th-ranked Irish erased a 14-point second half deficit to knock off No. 6 Wichita State and bring home that Maui trophy.

Bonzie Colson led the way with 25 points and 11 boards while Matt Farrell chipped in with 15 points, four assists, four boards and three steals. Geben chipped in with 12 points, including those two free throws that served as the eventual game-winners.

Beyond the simple fact that they did it against one of the best teams in the country, what makes this comeback so impressive is that the Irish didn’t rely on a flurry of threes to change the course of the game. This comeback came through grit, toughness defensively and, if we’re being honest, a little bit of luck.

With less than 20 seconds left on the clock and the Irish down by three points, Colson airballed a pretty good look at a three from the top of the key. On the ensuing inbounds, Farrell stole the ball and happened to find Colson under the rim for a layup. The lead was cut to one, and Wichita State proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled.

The ball once again ended up underneath Notre Dame’s basket, but this time it was the Irish ball, and after a gorgeous inbounds play, Geben headed to the line for two shots. The first shots somehow managed to go down after bouncing off the back of the rim, the backboard and the front of the rim twice.

And with that, Notre Dame would get off of the islands with another quality win for their résumé and a title to their name.

No. 8 Kentucky finally has it easy against Fort Wayne, 86-67

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Nick Richards had career highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds, and 70 percent first-half shooting propelled No. 8 Kentucky to an 86-67 rout of Fort Wayne on Wednesday night.

Kentucky’s 19-of-27 shooting before halftime countered the Mastodons’ eight 3-pointers that kept them close for a while. Once Fort Wayne started missing, it couldn’t match the length or speed of the young Wildcats (5-1), who eventually led 78-48 with 6:50 remaining on the way to their most decisive win this season.

Richards thrived in both halves and on both ends, making 9 of 10 from the field and all seven free throws for his first career double-double. The 6-foot-11 freshman’s previous highs were 10 points against Utah Valley and nine rebounds against Kansas last week.

Quade Green, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each added 11 points as Kentucky shot a season-best 33 of 55 (60 percent) and dominated the rebounding 44-21.

Junior guard John Konchar had 19 points and Bryson Scott 18 for Fort Wayne (3-2), who had won three in a row before losing on 40 percent shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Fort Wayne: A year after upsetting Indiana, the Mastodons led Kentucky 37-36 with 3:51 left in the first half behind 8-of-22 shooting from long range. They went cold from outside and elsewhere after that and the Wildcats pounced to lead at the break and stretch the advantage to 30 points in the second half. The Mastodons’ 12 3-pointers were their third-highest total this season.

Kentucky: Something had to give after all those tense performances and the Wildcats thrived because of their size and best shooting effort this season. Richards couldn’t be stopped on either end, and teammates seemed in sync for the first time. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel came up just short of a double-double with 10 rebounds and nine points.

UP NEXT

Kentucky hosts Illinois-Chicago on Sunday to wrap up the Rupp Classic before getting a few days off.

Fort Wayne visits East Tennessee State on Saturday. ETSU lost 78-31 to Kentucky last Friday.

VIDEO: Providence beats Belmont on Kyron Cartwright’s buzzer-beating three

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We got the first wild buzzer-beater of the college basketball season on Wednesday night, as Kyron Cartwright answered a Belmont bucket with 3.7 seconds left by going 94-feet to hit a leaning three at the buzzer:

Providence won the game 65-63.

Cartwright finished with 17 points in the win.

Four Takeaways from N.C. State’s upset win over No. 2 Arizona

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Five games into the Kevin Keatts era and N.C. State already has themselves a signature win.

The Wolfpack upset No. 2 Arizona in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 90-84, sending Sean Miller home without reaching the Final Four once again. Allerik Freeman led the way with 24 points, while Braxton Beverly chipped in with 20 points off the bench and the combination of Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven combined for 21 points and 17 boards.

This wasn’t a fluky win, either.

N.C. State had control throughout. They were up 15-6 before Arizona woke up, they didn’t trail in the first half and they were the ones that made the Wildcats chase them down in the second half. It was quite impressive, as Keatts had this group playing hard and pressing for 40 minutes. It’s been a while since N.C. State fans can say that they’ve seen that.

Here are three things to takeaway from that win.

1. Arizona is going to have some things to figure out on the defensive end of the floor if they want to win a national title: Deandre Ayton is a man amongst boys. In his first college basketball game against competition that actually deserved to be on the same floor as him, Ayton finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds, a performance that makes me so damn excited to see just how good Marvin Bagley III, Miles Bridges and players of that ilk are if Ayton does not end up being the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

Trier struggled in the first half, but he still managed to put together a 27-point performance, with 24 of those 27 coming in the second half. They put up 84 points. That wasn’t the issue.

The 90 points they allowed was.

Even more concerning was the fact that the Wolfpack scored those 90 points on just 73 possessions. The bottom-line is this: That’s not good enough, not when N.C. State is hardly a contender for the Final Four, let alone a national title challenger.

2. Kevin Keatts is making the most of the talent Mark Gottfried squandered: I’m not sure quite how good the Wolfpack actually are. I don’t think it’s possible to tell this early, even after a win over a team like Arizona. But what is undeniable is the simple fact that this N.C. State team plays are and with most passion and intensity than any Mark Gottfried team did.

They look like they are trying. They look like they care. And frankly, that often matters more than the simple stock-piling of talent. There’s no way anyone could look at this N.C. State roster and think that it has more talent on it than, say, a team with Dennis Smith Jr. or a team with T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack may not have a future lottery pick on this roster. But they do have guys that play their tails off, that play as if they have a point to prove and that play as if they are being coached.

It makes you wonder what could have been had Keatts been in Raleigh last season.

3. Braxton Beverly getting ruled eligible is going to be a big deal for N.C. State: Earlier this fall, Braxton Beverly was one of the biggest stories in college basketball, believe it or not. He had transferred to N.C. State from Ohio State after enrolling in summer courses prior to Thad Matta’s firing. He was ruled ineligible for this season with the Wolfpack, and it turned into the cause celebre for college basketball media members looking to circle the wagons and bash the NCAA.

It took longer than it should have, but Beverly was eventually cleared by the NCAA. He’s eligible to play this season, and he just so happens to be the point guy on the N.C. State press and one of their best shooters. He put up 20 points on the No. 2 team in America. I think he’s going to be relevant this season.

4. Arizona’s point guard issues rose to the forefront: When the Wildcats made their push in the second half, they did it on the strength of hustle plays and transition buckets. Jumping passing lanes and going coast-to-coast. Beating N.C. State’s press and getting a layup. Points that came off of offensive rebounds. Where they struggled was with their half court execution. The question with this team entering the season was with the point guard play. Was Parker Jackson-Cartwright going to be good enough to carry this team to a title? I’m not sure we can truly say we got on answer on Wednesday – N.C. State’s pressure, which was ratcheted up by the fact that Arizona couldn’t get a stop, played more of a role than anything – but Jackson-Cartwright certainly did not put in the kind of performance that would make Arizona fans feel comfortable.