Former UNC athletic director angry about Little revelations

Sep. 12, 2013 @ 09:14 PM

Former North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said he was upset and disappointed – but not angry – when he saw news reports that Durham native Greg Little took more than $20,000 from an agent while he was a wide receiver at UNC.

Then Baddour sat down in his office Wednesday and read an affidavit from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office that detailed the specifics of Little’s misconduct.

“Well, when I read this I do get angry,” Baddour said.

When Little was suspended indefinitely during his senior year for lying to NCAA investigators and taking impermissible benefits from people connected to the program, Baddour said that Little’s punishment was “unduly harsh.” In a reinstatement request to the NCAA dated Sept. 24, 2010, Baddour wrote that Little had eventually disclosed everything and that the receiver didn’t know he couldn’t accept gifts from former teammates.

But it turns out that Little still wasn’t being truthful – the Hillside High School graduate was receiving thousands of dollars a month since the spring from Terry Watson, a Georgia-based agent. On Oct. 6, 2010 – five days before the NCAA declared Little permanently ineligible – the receiver texted Watson that he needed money to pay his rent.

Little provides a case study in how easy it is for star athletes to receive money under the table, and raises the question of whether the concept of amateurism in a billion-dollar industry is sustainable.

“It’s a warning sign, and it’s scary,” said Baddour, who stepped down in 2011. “It makes you feel, as we have before, just extremely vulnerable to someone who can make that kind of decision and put your whole program in jeopardy.

“Outright dishonesty – I’m really at a loss to say what it is you can do.”

Little first met Willie Barley, a runner for Watson, during a birthday pool party at the house of NFL running back Frank Gore. Barley gave Watson’s phone number to Little and said “his guy” could get anything Little wanted.

Little initiated contact with Watson, who ran the Watson Sports Agency out of Marietta Ga., after UNC’s 2010 spring game and eventually set up an in-person meeting in late April in Chapel Hill.

Though the team set aside specific dates and on-campus locations for player-agent interviews, Little met Watson at the Alta Springs apartment of Jennifer Wiley, an academic tutor at UNC who worked with football players and the son of former coach Butch Davis.

Wiley would take notes as Little met with at least three agents before choosing Watson. After the decision, Little received a lump sum payment of $5,000 and started to get a monthly allowance of $2,200, plus airline tickets, hotel accommodations and a cell phone.

The payments were rarely direct from Watson to Little -- after Little sent his text message about rent money, Watson sent a FedEx package to Wiley’s apartment the next day.

In a text message uncovered by the Secretary of State, Watson wrote that he didn’t write checks “because he does not want to leave a paper trail.”

Likewise, Little had Wiley receive payments because he didn’t want the NCAA to say “this is Terry to you.”

Watson’s policy of not sending money directly to athletes even to led to one situation when an athlete didn’t receive payment that was sent to his girlfriend because they had just broken up.

When Marvin Austin, Little’s former teammate who was also declared permanently ineligible, received $2,000 from Watson on May 4, the FedEx package was addressed from Watson’s friend Pat Jones to “Todd Stewart,” a name that Austin chose.

Jones, a real estate agent in Georgia, told investigators that making illicit payments was “the only way Watson could compete with the bigger agents and their companies.”

Little estimated that he received more than $20,000 from Watson, often through Wiley.

Wiley spent $1,789 to pay Little’s UNC parking tickets, $1,159 for airplane tickets for Little and a friend (N.C. Central player Michael Johnson) for a Memorial Day weekend trip to Miami, and $150 for a ticket change fee during Little’s trip to the Bahamas. Each time, Watson paid her back. When Little was vacationing in Wilmington, Watson sent a Western Union wire to Wiley, who forwarded it to Little.

During its investigation, the NCAA accused Little of receiving more than $3,000 in gifts from former teammate and current NFL receiver Hakeem Nicks, and free trips to Washington, D.C,. and Miami from Todd Stewart (a childhood friend of Austin). The payments from Watson did not come to light until they were disclosed by the Secretary of State last week as part of its ongoing investigation into agents.

Even without that connection, Little was one of three players who lost their eligibility for accepting impermissible benefits. The team was put under scholarship reductions and was forced to serve a postseason ban in 2012.

Baddour said the team has had a program for dealing with agents ever since the Tar Heels’ resurgence under Mack Brown in the early 1990’s, and that the players are educated by financial advisors and NFL representatives. But he said there’s not much that can be done to stop someone “who is going to be this dishonest.”

“Whatever you’re doing, if you’re involved in college athletics, or running a business, or raising a family,” Baddour said. “Eventually it gets down to individuals trusting and respecting each other.

“(For Little) to put his teammates and the program and the university in that kind of jeopardy is just inexcusable.”

But even in a week when Sports Illustrated reported that 37 football players from Oklahoma State had received under-the-table income since 2000, and Yahoo Sports found that five SEC stars recently were given tens of thousands of dollars by agents, Baddour doesn’t think that Little’s case shows that the whole system of collegiate athletics needs to be overhauled.

“That’s a fair question to ask,” Baddour said. “But I don’t think it’s systemic. I think it’s the case of a few people making terribly bad decisions. I don’t think it’s a part of the fabric of the game.”