Financial penalties for players possible

Updated: October 26, 2010, 6:22 PM ET
By Joe Schad | ESPN.com

Players who lose their college eligibility for receiving improper benefits from agents could face financial penalties upon entering the NFL draft under a proposal being considered by a panel of college and pro football officials seeking solutions to the problem.

The NCAA noted the possibility of "potential post-NCAA financial penalties" in a news release Monday announcing the collaborative discussions between professional and college football leaders, player agents, state law enforcement officials and NCAA executives.

The possibility of suspensions during a player's NFL rookie year -- as long as six to eight games -- is also being discussed, according to two sources involved in the collaborative discussions including representatives of the NFL, the NFLPA, the NCAA and the American Football Coaches Association.

This means that if a college player's eligibility has ended under NCAA penalty, a player such as former Oklahoma State and current Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant or former North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin could be subject to penalties that extend well beyond the loss of college eligibility.

Austin is one of several high-profile college football stars who lost eligibility for this season for accepting improper benefits from player agents. Bryant lost most of his senior season in 2009 for failing to fully disclose his interaction with former NFL player Deion Sanders.

Financial penalties collected from players who lose their eligibility could conceivably go to charity, one source said.

The NFL Players Association released a statement Tuesday saying it was opposed to any penalties.

"The NFLPA is opposed to any penalty being imposed upon a player in the NFL for conduct relating to the receipt of benefits in violation of NCAA rules while the player was in college. However, we will continue to discuss with the NCAA and others issues relating to the conduct of agents certified by the NFLPA as they interact with NCAA players."

As the NCAA continues to spearhead collaborative efforts to tackle the issue of improper agent activity, the names of more than 20 people who are part of the group working on the problem were revealed Monday.

The NCAA said the group met last week and is making progress in identifying potential solutions and opportunities for greater collaboration between the NCAA, the NFL and its union, and state government officials.

Chicago-based sports agent Rick Smith, a member of the NCAA panel, said Monday that while discussions are preliminary, new rules could be in place within three to five months. Such rules would likely be enforced primarily by the NFL and the players' union.

"Something is going to happen," Smith said, "and it's going to happen quickly."

The group, which is expected to meet again next month, includes conference commissioners Mike Slive of the SEC and Jim Delany of the Big Ten; AFCA executive director Grant Teaff, prominent sports agent Jimmy Sexton; NFL team presidents Bill Polian of the Indianapolis Colts and Rich McKay of the Atlanta Falcons; NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson; and Rachel Newman Baker, the NCAA's director of agent, gambling and amateurism.

"The experience and background of the participants in these discussions is a significant step in the process in dealing with this issue," Slive said in a statement issued Monday. "As I have said, this is a national problem that calls for a national agent strategy for intercollegiate athletics.

"Our intent is not to eliminate NCAA oversight of agent issues, but rather modify the NCAA's philosophical basis for these rules from enforcement to an assistance-based model," Slive added. "Dealing with improper agent conduct has been a challenge for a long time, not only for intercollegiate athletics, but also for the many agents who try to follow the rules."

Additional NFL, NFLPA and NCAA officials, player agents and conference officials are also part of the group.

"Maybe for the first time, we can have everybody singing out of the same hymn book," Teaff said.

Besides Austin, five other Tar Heels won't play this season due to the probe, including defensive end Robert Quinn and receiver Greg Little. The NCAA declared Quinn and Little "permanently ineligible" for each receiving more than $4,900 in improper benefits from agents, while Austin was kicked off the team after the NCAA provided preliminary information that he had received $10,000 to $13,000 in benefits.

Coach Butch Davis called the NCAA panel discussions "an important step."

"There's not one single entity that can solve this issue," Davis said. "It's going to take a lot of people. There's an answer some place, and we've just got to work hard to try to find it."

The North Carolina Secretary of State's office launched its own probe shortly after the NCAA investigation to examine whether the state's sports agent laws were broken. Austin, former assistant coach John Blake -- who resigned in September -- and California-based agent Gary Wichard have spoken with investigators in that probe, which is still ongoing.

"A lot of this stuff that has gone in at several institutions has been going on for a long time," Davis said. "The unfortunate thing is the NCAA doesn't have an army. They can't investigate every single thing that goes on."

Joe Schad is a college football reporter for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Joe Schad

College Football

ALSO SEE