There are plenty of fans content to snicker at Florida and Alabama as they fall out of the NCAA's sweeping anti-agent dragnet, and dismiss both as unscrupulous cheaters. In time, the suddenly aggressive-looking NCAA may agree. But Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn't see it that way, and frankly, he resents the characterization – it's not like kids pocketing a few bucks from outsiders is his fault. From ESPN.com:
"What the NFL Players Association and the NFL need to do is if any agent breaks a rule and causes ineligibility for a player, they should suspend his [agent's] license for a year or two," Saban said. "I'm about ready for college football to say, 'Let's just throw the NFL out. Don't let them evaluate players. Don't let them talk to players. Let them do it at the combine.' If they are not going to help us, why should we help them?"
Saban said he also believes the NCAA should "take schools off the hook" for the actions of agents and players. In the end, however, he points at the former.
"Right now, agents are screwing it up," Saban said. "They are taking the eligibility of players. ..."
Saban knows of which he speaks: Before defensive end/BCS championship game MVP Marcell Dareus was implicated in the ongoing Agentpalooza on Tuesday, the Crimson Tide had to endure the agent-related suspension of All-America left tackle Andre Smith before the 2009 Sugar Bowl. The same guy accused of giving Smith money was reportedly sniffing around the program again last year. And the four players from 'Bama, North Carolina and South Carolina that have been specifically, publicly implicated to date in the NCAA's investigation into an agent-related trip to South Beach in late May are only the tip of the iceberg on that trip. A half-dozen more could be right behind them, potentially implicating dozens of players from almost every school in the SEC and beyond.
When you start pulling on those kinds of threads, there's no telling where it's going to stop. MSNBC marketing guru Darren Rovell estimates that, in any given year, at least 50 high-profile college stars are taking money from agents, who consider payouts part of the cost of doing business: "Everyone already knows that in order to consistently land top players, you have to give money or guarantee money to a college player in order to sign him." When a player like former Florida All-American Maurkice Pouncey is accused of taking huge sums of verboten cash before his last game (a charge he's calling "absolutely ridiculous," for the record), the incriminating dots go everywhere. In this case alone, Pouncey's agent is Joel Segal, whose once roster of NFL stars includes former Pouncey teammate Percy Harvin and Harvin's one-time recruiting host at USC, Reggie Bush.
Now, imagine half a dozen guys with that resumé (and two dozen more hoping to build it) looking for ways into your locker room. Bush's lucrative arrangement with New Era Sports was caught because one of his alleged money men went public. But Lloyd Lake was an amateur. As the Bylaw Blog points out, most of them are much better at this:
• Agents are as good or better than college coaches or pro scouts at identifying prospects. In some cases they are two years ahead of everyone else.
• Agents are almost never on campus. Most on-campus contact is made by teams of runners who look young enough to blend in on campus.
• Athletes ask runners and agents for gifts and favors far more often than runners and agents offer impermissible benefits.
• While athlete agents are regulated in almost every state, folks like financial advisors and marketing reps are not. So it’s hard to know who to even look out for.
• Almost everyone out to get a piece of a player, including business and marketing managers and personal trainers is connected to an agent.
Echoing Saban, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Wednesday "it's time to reexamine the NCAA rules relating to agents," not-so-subtly classifying the rules themselves as "part of the problem rather than the solution." Darren Rovell's suggestion for warding off middle men is of a piece with Saban's: Rather than build a fence to keep the pros out, he suggests the NCAA form workable partnerships with the NFL and NBA to regulate and punish offending agents through the pro players' associations.
That is, if the NCAA is serious about trying to root out the problem, rather than reactively whacking the few moles that happen to poke their heads above ground. The heavy-handed reaction to the Bush scandal and the breadth of the inquiries reported over the last week are tentative indications that it is. But if the problem is that deeply ingrained as everyone suggests, and that adept at evolving to (mostly futile) efforts at reform, it's going to take a few deliberate, concerted shocks to the system before it starts to recede.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.
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