Agents Beware…

Georgia-based football agent Terry Watson has been arrested and charged with violating N.C. Gen. Stat. 78C- 85-105, a well established, yet rarely enforced North Carolina statute within the Uniform Athlete Agents Act. A grand jury in Orange County North Carolina recently indicted the 39-year old head of Watson Sports Agency on 13 counts of athlete agent inducement and 1 count of obstruction of justice.

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The alleged improprieties stem from Watson’s 2010 interactions with 3 University of North Carolina football players: Greg Little, Marvin Austin, and Robert Quinn. Little and Quinn were declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA and Austin was kicked off the team in 2010 for accepting impermissible benefits. All three now play in the NFL. The prosecution alleges Watson offered the former Tar Heels cash, airfare, lodging, and other benefits (totaling $24,000.000) to induce them to sign an agency contract while at UNC. Section 78C-98 of the Act prohibits any such interaction.

“An athlete agent with intent to induce a student-athlete to enter into an agency contract, shall not: … (2) Furnish anything of value to a student-athlete before the student-athlete enters into an agency contract.”

In my honest opinion, the kicker and real reason that the state of North Carolina is criminally prosecuting Watson stems from the obstruction of justice allegations (Side note: two things you absolutely cannot do with regards to big brother: Not pay your taxes and lie under oath). Watson allegedly on numerous occasions refused to provide financial records to investigators. If convicted, Watson faces probation or up to 15 months in prison, and civil fines up to $25,000 on the agent inducement charges, and up to 30 months on the obstruction charge. Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall stated that he believed this is the first time nationally that an agent has been criminally charged with violating sports agent laws. “The truth is the institutions and the athletes – they may not realize it – but they really pay a price over time for this activity,” Woodall said. “Everybody allows it to go on, it’s just a wink and a nod, and I think people’s attention needs to be brought to this. I mean, it’s against the law.”

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The N. C. Secretary of State’s office has been looking into agents’ interactions with UNC football players since 2010, when the NCAA began a probe that found widespread violations within the football program.

Former UNC tutor Jennifey Wiley Thompson was recently charged with four counts of athlete agent inducement for giving cash and gifts to Little and being reimbursed by Watson. Little told the Secretary of State’s office that he used Thompson as a go-between so the NCAA couldn’t find a direct payment from Watson to Little. Sure enough, the NCAA did not uncover the payments from Watson.

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Criminal prosecutions for violations of athlete-agent acts are exceedingly rare. More often, states fine agents for violations or simply ignore many improprieties. This case, perhaps due the nature of the relationship between the prosecutor’s office and Watson appears to send a message to the agent world. While the water due to the NCAA’s own undoing may be murky, an agency should be aware of the consequences of a blatant disregard of the rules.  Furthermore, when an entity or individual is charged with obstruction of justice, all bets are now off. The prosecution is attempting to effectively enact the death sentence.  While the agent world is indeed cutthroat, cold and paranoid, honest will always be the best policy. A 3% NFL player commission does not equal a 30-month stint in the joint. Just sayin.

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