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Early Agent Signings Strain Relationship Between College, Pro Football

September 13, 1987|WILLIAM D. MURRAY | United Press International

The billion dollar world of college football has been shaken by a scandal as shocking to some as the "insider trader" scandals that ripped through Wall Street.

Like those on the business front, college football's problems involved a combination of big money, secret meetings and illegal agreements.

At the heart of the drama were some of the nation's best college football players who violated NCAA rules by entering into secret agreements with agents in return for cash. Those agreements gave agents the right to represent the players in any subsequent dealings with the NFL.

The result is a threat to the structure of both college and pro football which have enjoyed a good relationship for many years.

Football insiders were aware a scandal had been simmering for a long time. But even they don't know how many players were involved.

"The number of early signings has varied from year to year," said sports attorney Leigh Steinberg, who represents many of the NFL highest paid players. "One year it was near 50% and then it dropped below 20. I would think that last year probably 35% of the players taken in the top rounds had signed early. But, from what has come out, that 35%figure may be low."

Two highly publicized cases involved Cris Carter, an All-America wide receiver at Ohio State, and University of Pittsburgh running back Tony Gladman.

Carter was about to enter his senior season with the Buckeyes when word leaked that he had signed an agreement with sports agent Norby Walters. Ohio State quickly declared Carter ineligible. Pitt dropped Gladman, who reportedly took money from Walters and Lloyd Bloom.

Those colleges solved their immediate problems but the ineligible players posed a dilemma for the NFL. Here were players who were banned from college football with no opportunity to turn pro this season.

Commissioner Pete Rozelle scheduled a supplementary draft, which was much criticized as "rewarding" players who had cheated, then postponed it in the hope that something could be worked out so that Carter and Gladman might have their college eligibility reinstated.

But Ohio State State President Edward Jennings said his school would not appeal to the NCAA for a reinstatement of Carter. Pitt officials said Gladman did not contact them about reinstatement.

Finally, on Sept. 4, Carter was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the special draft but Gladman was passed over.

"It's (holding a supplemental draft) as if they are being rewarded for violating the rules," said Carl Miller, athletic director at the University of the Pacific and head of a national athletic directors organization. "These are not babes in the woods. They know the rules. They want to be treated like adults, so we should treat them like adults."

Miller says a supplementary draft could fatally strain the delicate relationship between college and professional football.

"We've always had a good working relationship with the NFL, but now that is in jeopardy," he said.

Said sports attorney Bob Woolf, who represents Larry Bird, Vinny Testaverde, Joe Montana, Doug Flutie among many others, "Early signing have been going on for a long, long time. But to me it's shocking that a newcomer (Walters was in sports representation just three years) could sign 30 to 40 players. That's unbelievable.

"It makes you wonder about the moral fiber of the athletes in college today. You can blame the agent all you want, but athletes bear a lot of the responsibility also."

On Sept. 9, Rozelle said he hopes there are few future cases that call for a supplemental draft.

"I certainly hope we can avoid that," Rozelle said. "It wouldn't be good for the NFL or the athletes. They need that time (college) for physical and emotional development."

Some legal action has followed the scandals.

A federal grand jury in Chicago subpoenaed dozens of college players--including top draft picks Reggie Rogers of the University of Washington (signed by Detroit) and Brent Fullwood of Auburn (signed by Green Bay)--and others focusing on allegations that Walters and Bloom were engaged in racketeering and fraud.

The Big 10 Conference filed a lawsuit Aug. 24 in Chicago federal court, seeking to force the pair to disclose the names of all active college players they have under contract.

To solve the problem, industry-wide controls are being urged.

"There is no question you have to regulate this industry," Woolf said. "I'm personally for federal regulation."

Steinberg said he favors bringing in state government as a regulating agency, but would also like to see the NFLPA take a more active role.

"The union regulates agents of veteran players, but not those talking to college athletes," he said. "What has happened because of this system is the people who need the regulation the most--the college seniors--have not been covered. I think the NFLPA should extend its policy to agents of any potential NFL player."

Some states have already taken steps to regulate the booming sports representation industry.

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