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July 6, 2012As North Carolina's football program can well attest, the NCAA is taking a pretty proactive stance these days in terms of investigating, enforcing, and cracking down on players and coaches who conduct improper relationships with sports agents and their employees.
In recent days the UNC football program---in the midst of a three-year probation that includes a postseason ban in 2012 and a reduction of 15 scholarships over the next three years---laid out several new rules relating to agent contact with its players.
In a letter dated Wednesday, June 27 and sent to multiple sports agencies, the athletic department laid out several new guidelines for agents and their employees as it related to contact with Tar Heel players, with some specific parameters including:
---There should be no in-person contact between the agents (or their representatives) and student-athletes or their families during this time (late June and July).
---During the month of August, no phone calls are permitted. Starting September 1, phone calls are permitted only between the hours of 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm Sunday nights.
---During August, no electronic communications permitted. Starting September 1, electronic communications (including email, social networking, and text messages) is prohibited from Thursday through Saturday (allowing players to focus on that week's game).
---All literature from agents should be sent to the UNC Compliance Office. All mail would be delivered to student-athletes every Sunday throughout the season.
The letter also stated that NFL Players Association and state of North Carolina/UNC certified agents will be allowed an opportunity from the 16th through the 20th of July to meet and talk with Tar Heel players and their families at the players' request. These meetings can last no longer than an hour, and they cannot involve anyone not approved by the NFLPA and the state of North Carolina's certification board for sports agents.
In a nutshell, these guidelines would ensure that no agents are having unauthorized contact with UNC's players through the entire summer, including the current second summer session and the entire month of August, with the sole exception of the one-hour summer meetings in the Kenan Football Center that are arranged and facilitated by UNC.
In theory, eliminating contact with agents during the offseason summer period should eliminate a substantial amount of the issues that arose with UNC's football program in 2010 with many of the violations that ultimately brought down the NCAA sanctions.
During the fall months, agents could speak on the phone with the players just on Sundays---which for college football players is a day typically filled with game film study, a light workout, and NFL game watching.
More contact could be made during the early days of the week (Monday through Wednesday), but not telephone calls. This correspondence would be limited to text messages, emails, and social networking such as Facebook or Twitter.
Naturally the sports agent community isn't pleased by the new rules UNC has put into place, but they don't have to worry about getting further sanctioned by the NCAA and digging an even deeper hole than has already been dug. Their careers aren't necessarily put into jeopardy by illegal communication the same way a collegiate player's career can be put into jeopardy.
Ultimately, it's the University that has to figure out a way to protect itself.
These are guidelines that UNC is laying down that they expect their players to abide by, but it's going to be much more difficult to get the agents to fall in line.
Unlike the current Tar Heel players, who can be punished for violating these new parameters, its much harder to reel in unscrupulous agents who don't play by the rules because they don't feel like the rules apply to them.
But at least from UNC's vantage point, having a set of guidelines in place will make it much easier, at least in theory, to monitor and be in control of any potential issues related to player-agent contact in the future.
They now have a set of written standards in place to guide the student-athletes, along with extensive communication to the student-athletes about the need to avoid these kinds of improper relationships that can jeopardize their intercollegiate eligibility.
And given the 'anything goes' culture that seemed to permeate the UNC football program a couple of years ago, these measures seem to be a responsible step in the right direction as the Tar Heels seek to serve its three-year probation without further infractions.
The topic of agents and improper contact has also entered the news in recent days in basketball recruiting, although in this instance the improper agent contact wasn't with college coaches or players, but with AAU coaches and directors speaking improperly with agents.
Shady dealings between AAU coaches and agents isn't exactly a new thing of course, but in recent days more news has bubbled to the surface showing just how proactive the NCAA is trying to be to deter and punish AAU programs that violate no-contact rules with agents.
It was announced on Thursday that four prominent AAU basketball programs---The Worldwide Renegades, the New England Playaz, the Florida Rams, and the SEBL Elite All Stars---will not be approved by the NCAA to participate in the July sanctioned events that coaches attend.
The NCAA received an email sent by agent Andy Miller to the administrators of the four disgraced AAU programs, apparently disgruntled about the fact that they in his mind weren't providing enough support steering players in his direction.
The email suggested a pre-existing relationship between Miller and the four AAU programs in which Miller steered prospects towards those teams in exchange for star players being steered towards his agency once they were ready to head to the pros.
This effectively shuts down these programs as significant players in the summer basketball circuit, as they won't be allowed to attend any of the prominent tournaments in which college coaches can attend.
The spring and July open recruiting events are naturally huge draws for recruits, and not being able to participate in these tournaments could very well signify the end of these programs as they lose their appeal to top prospects.
UNC basketball isn't directly involved in these particular NCAA infractions, but it is of note that the Tar Heels have an incoming freshman, Joel James, who played for the Florida Rams, while another prospect, Kaleb Tarczewski, was heavily recruited by North Carolina last summer while he played for the New England Playaz.
James and Tarczewski were two of the headliners at the Adidas Invitational that Tar Heel Illustrated covered last summer, and now neither of those teams will be allowed to set foot neither in Indianapolis nor in Orlando, where the AAU nationals will be held at the end of the month.
North Carolina's basketball staff has consistently tried to stay above the fray as it relates to AAU coaches, choosing to deal as best as they possibly can with legitimate people who work within the rules.
Boo Williams and his highly-successful program is a perfect example of a talent-rich AAU organization that does things the right way, and in turn has been a veritable goldmine of talent for the Tar Heels over the past few years.
For several years the Tar Heels haven't recruited any players on the Worldwide Renegades, a program well known throughout the grassroots circuit for plenty of good reasons, but also for a few not-so-good reasons.
But this week's stunning announcement shows how virtually any program that recruits a top-tier prospect can be indirectly linked if the directors or coaches of that particular AAU program breaks rules.
Prominent schools including UNC, Duke, Arizona, Florida, and others have accepted commitments and signed players from the affected programs, so this is an issue that stretches beyond any one school, coach, or player.
Fortunately for UNC, James' eligibility is in no way affected, as he has had no improper dealings with any agents to anyone's knowledge.
In fact, no AAU players have been found to do anything wrong, and the players on the four ineligible programs are allowed to still participate this month in NCAA-sanctioned events on approved teams.
But naturally it's going to be a challenge to make those arrangements in the 11th hour while also getting used to playing on a new team, so it automatically puts those players at a major disadvantage in what is arguably the most important three weeks of the year for recruits eager to impress coaches and earn scholarship offers during the July open period.
This isn't an issue that Roy Williams has to feel like he has to tackle all by himself, but certainly it's something he'll have to consider as he continuously evaluates the AAU landscape and which coaches he deals with on the recruiting trail.
It's hard to say exactly what Williams should do in this case. And some can easily suggest, 'What can he do?'
It would be easy to say just cut off any AAU program that has a reputation for seediness, but in the ultra-competitive world of recruiting, where a player you turn down can turn around and beat you a couple of years later, that particular philosophy can certainly backfire.
It would figure that Williams will keep doing what he's been doing---staying focused on dealing with those AAU programs that he knows are doing things the right way, while keeping ever-cognizant of the seedy underbelly of grassroots basketball and trying to stay as vigilant as possible to protect the integrity of the UNC basketball program and the players he's recruiting to play in it.
And for all of the staff members of UNC's athletics department, it's important to stay abreast of just how seriously the NCAA is taking improper dealings between coaches, players, and agents.
It's not anything that should come as a surprise to anyone that's followed UNC's football program over the past couple of years, but for those who think the lily-white image of North Carolina basketball can't be tainted over some of this stuff, don't be naive.
The Tar Heel coaches have to continue staying knowledgeable about these kinds of things, while never allowing themselves to get complacent.
It was that same complacency, some can argue, that led to some of the fractures in the system that has gotten the football program in so much hot water.
UNC basketball has absolutely done nothing wrong in this instance, but given how many people out there in the basketball recruiting world aren't doing all the right things, they have to stay more diligent than ever in terms of who they recruit, what coaches they associate with, and how they handle their business on the recruiting trail.