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Josh Luchs: States must enforce laws

10/14/2010 - NFL College Football

A former sports agent who admitted paying college football players in the 1990s told ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" that the NFL Players Association, the NCAA and state law enforcement agencies need to do more to stop agents from recruiting players with money and gifts.

Josh Luchs, in a story appearing in the Oct. 18 issue of Sports Illustrated, said he paid more than 30 players from 1990 to '96, including many who didn't sign with him.

Luchs told hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on Wednesday morning that the NFLPA has been "ineffective" in curbing agents who pay players and needs to work together with the NCAA and states with agent laws on the books to prevent the practice.

"There's no communication between the NCAA and the NFLPA currently," Luchs said. "They're not working together and they should be -- and they should also be working together with the individual states. And until they all come together and decide that they're going to share information and find one common goal, they're going to be working against each other."

Luchs said when he was paying players, the states did not have laws regulating the conduct of player agents. Now that those laws are in place, they need to be enforced, he said.

"It appears now [the states are] ready to step up and enforce them and I certainly hope that they do," Luchs said. "Because if they have an agent dead to rights in an individual state and they elect not to prosecute them when they actually have evidence, then they're sending up a big 'ol signal that says, 'Hey, come on to our state, recruit our players, break our laws, because we're not going to enforce them.' "

Luchs said he believes many coaches are unaware of agents and runners courting their players and that family members of players are sometimes involved as runners for agents.

He also defended his reasons for granting Sports Illustrated the interviews, saying, "If you believe even a portion of what I said, then at least you have to acknowledge there's an elephant in the room and that we have a problem."

In a statement issued Wednesday, the NCAA said it could not speak to the veracity of Luchs' story, but said it is continuing to work on the issues it addressed.

"While we don't know the validity of the claims, it is nonetheless disturbing. What we do know is that unscrupulous agents are targeting student-athletes," the NCAA said. "That is why representatives from the NCAA, Collegiate Commissioners Association, NFL, NFL Players Association, American Football Coaches Association, state government and the agent community are collaborating to identify potential solutions to the problem."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday he had spoken with a number of college coaches, agents and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith about the agent issue.

"It's an area of great concern to the coaches on the college level and we want to be responsive to that. We want to make sure that we're supporting them in any way we can and keeping the game of football strong on all levels," Goodell said.

Luchs was suspended for a year by the NFL Players Association in 2007 over the handling of a commission check. Luchs had sued agent Gary Wichard for breach of contract after leaving his agency and lost the lawsuit, after which Wichard filed the grievance with the NFLPA over Luchs' handling of the check.

Luchs told "Mike and Mike in the Morning" he decided to come forward in order to tell his side of the story -- and unless he told the whole truth, no one would listen. He said he was not offered money by Sports Illustrated for the story, and he did not ask for money, either.

The NFLPA, which certifies player agents, is "outmanned and basically ineffective" in policing the industry, Luchs said.

"Quite frankly [the union] doesn't really go after [agents] and do any investigation," he said. "Typically they're getting involved when things fall on their laps, they're getting involved maybe when there's an agent-agent dispute and they're being used as a weapon in those disputes."

Luchs was asked to comment on an earlier "Mike and Mike" interview of Smith, who said the problem of dirty agents is "something we're going to deal with extremely aggressively."

"I don't know [Smith], I've never met him, but I can say that I know he's got the best of intentions and really believes that in his heart that's something that's going to happen," Luchs said. "I guess it remains to be seen."

In the Sports Ilustrated story, Luchs said quarterback Ryan Leaf, the second pick in the 1998 draft who famously flopped in the pros, took more than $10,000, most of which he voluntarily paid back after signing with another agent. Leaf declined to comment on specific allegations.

Luchs told the magazine he also paid first-round picks Jamir Miller and Chris Mims. Miller, a linebacker from UCLA taken 10th by the Cardinals in 1994, declined comment. Mims, a defensive lineman from Tennessee taken 23rd by the Chargers in 1992, died in 2008.

During the interview, Greenberg asked Luchs if he believed he did anything wrong by paying players.

"It was against the rules. It was wrong. Do I regret doing it? No, not necessarily," Luchs said. "I didn't give guys money so they could go out and buy watches and cars."

"A lot of people around them have money and are going out and enjoying the college experience -- and a lot of these kids didn't even have enough money to go out and buy groceries," he explained. "I'm not trying to paint myself as Mother Teresa but clearly, at least in my case, the money served a purpose."

Luchs said he couldn't say with certainty what the coaches of players he paid knew. But he said coaches are "only human" and busy trying to win football games.

"Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, people [are] coming at [players] from all different angles -- runners, financial planners, marketing people," Luchs said. "As good as job as these coaches may want to do to try to shield these players, they're only human beings and they're trying to win football games."

Luchs and ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. also each addressed Kiper's role in the Sports Illustrated story on "Mike and Mike in the Morning."

In the story, Luchs said Wichard used Kiper to help recruit players, describing a 2000 meeting with Stanford defensive lineman Willie Howard in which Wichard had arranged for Kiper to call as he talked with the player.

Kiper told SI that he "would never promote Gary or another agent to a player" and denied that the call was prearranged.

On Thursday, Luchs talked about what he saw as Kiper's role in Wichard's recruiting process.

"I'm not saying that Mel Kiper ever said in these phone calls to these players, 'Hey, you should sign with Gary Wichard.' I'm not saying that at all. In fact I never heard him say that. But what Gary was able to do was he was able to build credibility around those phone calls. And it was perceived by the players in many cases as an endorsement," Luchs said.

Kiper, in a later interview Wednesday, defended his relationships with player agents, saying they help him get to know the players, which allows him to properly evaluate them. He challenged Luchs' assertion he was "used" in Wichard's recruiting and noted that on a number of occasions, he made mistakes in projecting Wichard clients, touting them as lower draft picks when they were selected higher than he had anticipated, and vice versa.

Kiper cited Wichard clients including linebacker Keith Bulluck, whom he projected at eighth and went 30th; tight end Todd Heap, whom Kiper projected at 14th and was drafted 30th; and defensive end Dwight Freeney, whom Kiper had at 21st and was drafted 11th.

"So in terms of my relationship with Gary, it has allowed me to make some of the best calls, good and bad, that I've ever made in this business," Kiper said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.