Woodall’s bold moves

Oct. 14, 2013 @ 07:35 PM

We’ve now seen three white-collar perp walks of a sort outside the Orange County Courthouse, as the first three indictments have been unsealed and people charged with violating North Carolina’s heretofore unused Uniform Athlete Act.

More indictments are to come. It is a move sure to bring national attention as the prosecutions proceed – this apparently is the first time in the nation, not just in North Carolina, that a prosecutor has brought criminal charges for agents’ offering improper inducements to athletes.

Depending on the outcome in court, perhaps this will no longer be a rare act.  Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall – no knee-jerk foe of big-college athletics, far from it – has seized a tool that rather incredibly has not been used before to try to curb the tainting flow of money in that arena.

This is not about the NCAA and violations of its often baroque, sometimes self-serving rules. The governing body of big-time college sports struggles mightily, sometimes earnestly and sometimes almost laughably, to stuff back into the bottle the genie it has unleashed with it savvy leveraging of its anti-trust exemptions and multi-million television contracts. College sports, especially in the marquee sports of football and basketball, are essentially minor leagues for professional teams that benefit from player development at virtually no cost.

The activities that North Carolina’s law – which Woodall is trying to put some teeth into – prohibits are another seamy underside. Agents seeking an inside track on representing players whose lucrative contracts will mean a healthy payday for them try to shuttle money or less overt favors to college stars. 

Indictments, of course, are far from a finding of guilt – but already the deeds they allege have pulled back the curtain on some agents’ efforts to line up some UNC players. We suspect far more dispiriting detail will emerge as the cases go to trial.

Tom Ross, the UNC system president, last week praised Woodall’s move as “sending a positive message.” Speaking after a meeting of the UNC Board of Governors, Ross told reporters “I’m delighted that North Carolina has a tough statute. I’m glad it’s being utilized.”

Ross also correctly called on the entities best able to curtail the improper agent behavior – professional sports leagues – to step up.

“It has to be a joint effort,” he said. “What happened at the Chapel Hill campus is not something we want to see happen again anywhere, at any campus, but it’s going to be hard for any individual institution to solve alone.”

Peter Hans, chairman of the Board of Governors, joined in praising Woodall.

“I applaud the district attorney for holding people accountable for breaking North Carolina’s laws,” Hans said, “particularly these agents who lurk in the shadows, clearly not with the best interest of students at heart.”

Agents, sadly, are not the only people who fail to have students’ best interests at heart, but they are an important target. We echo Hans’ applause for Woodall’s efforts.