- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (AP) - With March Madness starting this week, plenty of college coaches are trying to keep their teams focused on the next game and the next opponent.

Some know the agents have already come calling. Or friends of the agents. Or just someone eager to share a phone number or a name.

Players, the NCAA and agents themselves say it’s difficult at best to limit the influence of agents on 18-, 19- and 20-year-old players.

“I don’t think it’s possible, and one of the reasons is, particularly in basketball, you’ve got a kid in school who wants to go to school only because the NBA regulations keep them from going in the draft early,” said Richard Katz, the CEO of Cincinnati-based KMG Sports Management who represents both pro players and college coaches.

“The problem,” said Rachel Newman Baker, the NCAA’s director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities, “is the kids are coming into the colleges with the relationships already, particularly in the sport of basketball.”

The NCAA is trying to deal with the situation about agents and their place in the college game.

High-profile NCAA investigations into the recruiting of former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and the influence of sports agents on North Carolina football have made agents the subject of the moment. The issue has led some state legislatures, Illinois included, to pass laws aimed at regulating agents.

There’s nothing wrong, according to NCAA rules, with agents and players talking.

But to coaches, the talk of the money a player might earn after he leaves college is a major distraction, another voice alongside friends and family telling a player he’s ready for the big time.

And anything beyond talk _ a handshake agreement to represent the player, a handout of a few bucks, even lunch _ is an NCAA rules violation that can cost a team and a player.

Newman Baker said by the time top players get to college agents have approached them through the coaches who run offseason AAU teams or through family and friends.

Most coaches are loathe to talk about agent influence, but Illinois coach Bruce Weber is one of those who admits he can’t entirely keep them away from his players.

“You can’t be with the kids 24 hours a day,” Weber said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There’s just so many people in kids’ lives these days.”

In early February, with the Illini slumping, Weber even told a Chicago radio station that point guard Demetri McCamey was struggling because he was hearing from agents and their runners filling his head full of NBA thoughts.

McCamey says his AAU coach fields calls for him, and he acknowledges he has taken steps to keep fans, agents and anyone else he doesn’t know away.

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