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More and more athletes are leaving school early and increasing numbers of scandals seem to erupt over unethical agents plying young prospects with improper gifts and under-the-table cash.

What's the NCAA to do? Get tough? Lighten up?With Marcus Camby's well publicized confession giving them impetus, members of a special committee will decide next month if the NCAA is as helpless as it appears to be.

"There is some feeling our present approaches . . . are not real effective," NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey said Thursday.

"The committee asked the staff to prepare two different approaches to the issue. One would be legislation more restrictive as it relates to student-athletes and agents. A second approach is possibly developing more lenient rules than we now have."

Ultimately, Congress may hold the key. A Tennessee representative has introduced a bill in the House that would criminalize the unscrupulous pursuit of college athletes.

But the NCAA, increasingly embarrassed and frustrated by a rising tide of violations, is determined to try something.

"We need to find more effective ways to assist student-athletes in making the kind of decisions they need to make," Dempsey said. "It would seem that good agents would want to be of help since they get painted with the same brush as the unscrupulous agents, and there are some very good agents."

Camby startled college basketball this week when he reportedly confessed to accepting improper gifts last season while starring for a Massachusetts team ranked No. 1 much of the season. Within days, investigations by both the school and a Connecticut prosecutor were announced.

Although the school would be subject to penalty only if a coach or administrator were directly involved, Camby's eligibility would be in jeopardy if he hadn't already joined a stampede of underclassmen leaving early for the NBA draft.

"Exactly what happened seems unclear," Dempsey said. "But the Camby situation certainly brings into focus the entire issue."

A major problem is unscrupulous agents who lavish money and gifts on underclassmen to induce them to sign as clients before their college eligibility is up, a direct violation of NCAA rules. Many agents convince underclassmen they're fully ready for the NFL or NBA, although many clearly are not.

One idea being considered is a formal board, people the athletes would trust, to provide no-holds-barred advice on their draft status.

"The concept is to give the student-athlete a full and complete knowledge before he commits himself irrevocably," said Pac-10 assistant commissioner David Price, a committee member. "We would want the NBA and NFL heavily involved, if not be the point people. The feeling is the student-athletes need information from outside people - people who would have no reason to provide misleading information."

The professional leagues have not yet been approached with the idea.

"We're waiting until the committee comes up with some formal conclusions first," said David Berst, head of the NCAA's enforcement division. "I wouldn't want to predict what direction we might take. But I'm sure whatever is done will require the cooperation of various groups.

"There is an interest in evaluating the amateurism concept. I expect that will occur next year."

In Washington, U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., has introduced the Collegiate Athletics Integrity Act of 1996. It specifies that an agent who knowingly influences an athlete to end his college eligibility would be subject to fine or imprisonment.

The measure is similar to ones recently passed in Tennessee and already in effect in 21 other states, including Connecticut, that forbid agents and college athletes to talks to each other about professional contracts.

"The Marcus Camby situation shows why this law is needed." Gordon said. ". . . We need this law to give the U.S. attorney the power to go after these unscrupulous agents."