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SI story implicates Mel Kiper in agent payoff investigation

In what can be classified journalistically as an expose by Sports Illustrated, former football agent Josh Luchs implicates ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper as being part of the scandal involving agent Gary Wichard.

Wichard is the central figure in the NCAA investigation into collegiate players receiving money and gifts from agents. The investigation caused North Carolina's Marvin Austin and South Carolina's Weslye Saunders to be dismissed from school. It has also led to the suspensions of several other players this year. Notably, North Carolina's Robert Quinn and Greg Little were ruled permanently ineligible on Tuesday.

The SI story alleges that Wichard and Luchs called Kiper when the agents were meeting with Stanford defensive lineman Willie Howardin 2000. As the story goes, Wichard told Kiper he was meeting with the best defensive lineman in college football. To which, Kiper responded by saying Wichard must be in the room with Howard. The tone of the article suggests that Wichard called Kiper in advance so they could ham it up about Howard and get him to sign with Wichard.

The story also implies that Kiper rates Wichard's clients more favorably in his rankings, which appear on ESPN, and in Kiper's books published by Mel Kiper Enterprise Inc.

The question that ultimately has to be asked is this: if true, what would Kiper get out of having call arrangements with Wichard and ranking Wichard's clients higher? That is where your mind gets to run wild.

When Sports Illustrated contacted Kiper, he denied the call with Wichard, Luchs and Howard. Kiper did say, though, that he is friends with Wichard and has spoken to some of his players. Kiper added that he does that "all the time" for different agents. Kiper also said he "would never promote Gary or any other agent to a player."

Kiper also denied that he rates players higher if they are Wichard's clients.

Speaking to SI, Howard confirmed the phone call with Kiper while meeting with Wichard and Luchs.

Wichard runs Pro Tect Management. Among his clients are Jason Taylor, Dwight Freeney, Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Antonio Cromartie, C.J. Spiller, Keith Bulluck and Jimmy Clausen.

Kiper has faced scrutiny in the past about his involvement with agents. In April of 2009 when Kiper had Clausen rated as the top quarterback (ahead of Sam Bradford) and fourth overall, the Washington Post said there were whispers about the draft analyst's friendship with Wichard. Kiper responded by saying he didn't think highly of Wichard clients Taylor Mays and Freeney and that he is friends with several agents.

Update: In a statement to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal, ESPN says it is looking into this matter.