After NCAA trouble, UNC calling on NFL agents for input

A little over two years after the NCAA/Gary Wichard mess, North Carolina is embracing NFL agents in a different way.

The school’s compliance department is developing an agent program geared to educate players about the business, and it has reached out to NFL agents it feels are reputable during the research process, athletics director Bubba Cunningham said.

UNC compliance director Vince Ille, hired in July to help bolster the department, said via email he recently visited the Chicago offices of Priority Sports and Entertainment to meet with CEO/founder Mark Bartelstein and director of football operations Mike McCartney. Ille called the meeting "very productive," discussing the business and exchanging experiences.

Several schools use the Virginia-based Cornerstone Sports Consulting, which helps players choose their agents wisely while helping schools fend off runners.

UNC feels it can provide its own in-house service by being proactive with the agent world rather than running from it.

Cunningham, hired by UNC 13 months ago, makes it clear this isn’t an exclusive relationship with any agency. In March, the NCAA slashed 15 football scholarships over three years and banned the program from a postseason bowl after it found the school was "responsible for multiple violations, including academic fraud, impermissible agent benefits, ineligible participation and a failure to monitor its football program." Wichard, an NFL agent with Pro Tect Management, was heavily involved.

Instead, Cunningham wants his players to have a “good menu” of respected agents who have their best interests in mind. Ille, a former Illinois associate athletics director, heard about Priority as a respected agency over the years.

“Our hope is to build relationships with good agents we can trust,” Cunningham said. “We can say, 'Here’s what we’re thinking, and here’s what we know, and here’s a list of those clients.' "

A lawyer who has handled several prominent college athletics cases in recent years told me schools researching agents and providing information for students is encouraged because you’re dealing "not under the table, but fully above the table."

The only danger, he says, is the school will look bad -- or could be implicated -- if those recommended agents find trouble.

But enough research will help UNC decipher which agencies are clean and which aren’t, Cunningham said.

"We feel we'll have better relationships with our players this way," Cunningham said.

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