Nine college athletes signed contracts with former Atlanta sports agent Jim Abernethy in violation of NCAA rules, including three football players who are scheduled to play in upcoming major bowl games and two starters for Memphis State's basketball team, according to a published report.
The Atlanta Constitution quoted Abernethy as saying his firm signed improper contracts with Auburn senior defensive back Kevin Porter, Texas A&M senior offensive tackle Tony Bartley and A&M junior fullback Mel Collins, all of whom could be ruled ineligible for bowl games. Auburn will play Syracuse in the Sugar Bowl and Texas A&M will play Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. It is a violation of NCAA rules for an athlete to sign a contract with an agent before his eligibility has expired.
The newspaper said it obtained copies of eight of the contracts from Abernethy, with the exception of the one signed by Collins, which the agent promised to furnish this week. Memphis State junior center Marvin Alexander and sophomore forward Sylvester Gray admitted Monday to signing contracts with Abernethy and were suspended by the school pending an appeal to the NCAA.
"It's just time to get the whole story out," Abernethy told the Constitution, explaining why he made the disclosures, and adding that he had undergone a recent religious experience. "What's going on in the sports world is unbelievable."
The other players Abernethy said he signed included two Texas Christian University reserves, defensive back John Booty and wide receiver Wayne Waddy. The remaining two contracts obtained by the paper were signed by TCU running back Tony Jeffery and Georgia Tech defensive back Riccardo Ingram, both of whom lost their eligibility last month for dealing with Abernethy.
The contracts were just one of a number of disclosures made by Abernethy in an extensive interview with the paper about the dealings of his firm, which has gone out of business. Abernethy also alleged he and associate Gary Wilson had improper dealings with Clemson defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry, South Carolina wide receiver Sterling Sharpe and Auburn defensive tackle Tracy Rocker. All are scheduled to play in major bowl games.
"I don't have contracts on those guys, but based on the rules, Perry should have been ineligible this season," he said.
Officials at TCU, Texas A&M, Clemson and Auburn said they are investigating Abernethy's allegations. NCAA director of enforcement David Berst said any investigations would have to be initiated by the schools. Appeals can be made to the NCAA eligibility committee for reinstatement, possibly in time for the bowl games if the process moves quickly.
Both Texas A&M players denied signing contracts, but Coach Jackie Sherrill said a lawyer will be sent to Atlanta to examine the papers. If they prove legitimate, the players will be suspended, pending an appeal to the NCAA, but Sherrill said the two could be ruled eligible again in time for the Cotton Bowl.
TCU Athletic Director Frank Windegger said if he receives confirmation that Booty and Waddy signed contracts, their scholarships will be cancelled. Both are fifth-year seniors and reserves with no eligibility left; Booty has denied it and Waddy could not be reached, Windegger said.
Sharpe and Perry vehemently denied the allegations against them through school officials. Rocker could not be reached for comment. The Constitution quoted sources as saying the NCAA was investigating Abernethy's alleged dealings with all three. South Carolina will play Louisiana State in the Gator Bowl Dec. 31 and Clemson will play Penn State in the Citrus Bowl Jan. 1.
Sharpe denied ever meeting Abernethy or Wilson and said, "These people are way off base. I've never heard of them." South Carolina Coach Joe Morrison said he has accepted Sharpe's denial.
Clemson associate athletic director Dwight Rainey said Perry signed an affidavit denying any improper dealings, although the defensive tackle admitted brief contact with the agent. Rainey said the school has investigated the accusation in concert with the NCAA, including a review of Perry's checking account, and found no improprieties.