Agent-Gate and the SEC coaches
Oh, so NOW the Nick Sabans and the Urban Meyers of the world are crying and whining about agents
while asking for the NFL to get involved. Oh, so NOW the players are ripe for the picking and
are too young and naïve to make their own decisions. Oh, so NOW the "problem" needs to be addressed
for the good of the players, and of course it's not because of the
potential for a Reggie Bush situation in Tuscaloosa or Gainesville
drying up the treasure bath.
According to Saban, agents are evil and the scourge of humanity because
what they do is "entrapment for young people in a very difficult time of
their lives." Uh huh. And what exactly is it when a college head coach
starts whispering sweet nothings into the ears of ninth graders? What is
it when a recruiting coordinator promises the moon and the stars to a
17-year-old kid? What is it when a head coach has the unmitigated gall to sit in a living room and use carefully crafted and hollow buzzwords like family, and special, and
starting job, and the earperker of all earperkers, NFL, in an attempt to appeal to
a child's most basic of hopes and dreams
while saying and doing anything to get that kid to sign?
And now, the coaches who massage and tweak all the recruiting rules and all the regulations, while using all the tried and true brainwashing tactics passed down through generations of coaches, are wondering why the same kids who fell for the boatload of bullmuffins that were slung to get them in the university
in the first place might then want to explore the opportunities presented when the pros are about to come calling.
Oh sure, the coaches really care about the poor, dumb players … as long as
they're 6-8, 300 pounds, throw the ball 75 yards, and run a 4.3 40. You want to talk about manipulative? You want to talk about "pimp" behavior? You want to talk about "anything but greed" that's creating the controversy? To go Dan Hawkins, IT'S DIVISION ONE FOOTBALL. Welcome to the party, pal.
If you don't like it, D-III is right there for you.
You want the NFL to start policing this? Or what … you're going to eliminate access to your players and programs to the pro scouts? Good luck with that on the recruiting trail, especially in the SEC.
Coaches, if you really and truly have the best interests of your players at heart, and if you really and truly care about their well being, instead of trying to use a teaspoon and sponge to clean up the Gulf of Mexico, try to change
the system to let the players have agents. Let the kid who wants to stay in school, but desperately needs the money, have
someone to help the cause above board rather than how it's happening now
at every top program. Remember, most of these players have jack squat, and just because they have on the shiny uniforms, and just because the media covers and scrutinizes them like pros, that doesn't mean they have any money.
(And please don't try to throw out the idea that a scholarship begins to
scratch the surface of what the top players bring in to the schools. It
demeans us both.)
Let the players have agents. Let them be given money just because they're able. Let them allow for the free market, natural selection system work in their favor, just like the coaches are able to do. It's time for the collegiate athletic world to finally wake up and realize that players getting money and benefits from boosters, agents, whomever, isn't a bad thing. If a coach can do endorsements, is allowed to take money in what's supposed to be an amateur endeavor, all while getting all the perks that come with the position, then why can't the players? I'm not saying all the players should be paid (that's logistically and legally impossible); I'm saying they should be allowed to take money, cars, whatever, from anyone who wants to give it to them.
If kids are supposed to go to college to grow into adults and learn how
to get through life, then they should be allowed to make adult decisions
and stop being treated like children. If it doesn't work out (like it
doesn't work out for a lot of regular students), the world needs
Coaches, grow up. If you don't like agents, then make sure your players
know the difference between right and wrong (at least by your version)
and police your own damn teams. Oh, sorry, I forgot. Your "families."
Should college football let the NFL handle the agent issue?
First off, they ought to resist the temptation to hit the panic button. Rash decisions based on recent news are only going to make life tougher on the athletes.
There are unscrupulous agents, as we all know. There are also dirty cops and doctors and teachers. The point being that it never makes sense to indict an entire industry or turn a process upside down based on the small minority of bad apples in the bunch. You see, of the more than 800 registered agents, how many are throwing lavish parties for prospective clients or trafficking in bling? A very small fraction. Oh, and of the 1,000 or so seniors each year with a prayer of playing in the pros, the overwhelming majority don't rise to the level of being wooed with NCAA rule-violating improprieties. They simply want a chance to play beyond college. And that priority free agent or late third-day pick can absolutely improve his chances for employment by aligning himself with a seasoned advocate who has successfully placed and managed the careers of athletes. So, before anyone suggests that we completely sequester kids from speaking with agents, understand that they're the ones who will be hurt the most.
Of course, that's not at all to suggest that a problem doesn't exist in amateur athletics. Money, sports, and youth is a cocktail that'll always be prone to transgressions. Throw in a swath of kids who come from meager backgrounds and are perpetually broke, and connecting the dots is elementary. This has always been a problem, and likely always will be. The key is to manage the landmines a little better, with a lot more education because policing 85 student-athletes is an impossible chore for any staff. The dissemination of information is happening on every campus and in every compliance office, but schools and coaches have to beat the drum the way professional sports warn about gambling; break the rules and you're flirting with disaster, for yourself, your teammates, and your university. Especially in today's age of technology and instant information, flying under the radar has become more unattainable than ever.
The latest round of allegations and off-field issues should also once again open up the discussion of a stipend for college athletes. Isn't it time? The money is there and many of the kids would clearly benefit from a few extra dollars in their pocket, especially during the season. Heck, if you can get a signed Jake Locker football and sell it on eBay, shouldn't he have the same entrepreneurial ability? Does it eradicate the problems involving shady agents? No, but it would serve to reduce the temptation.
No matter how hard the NCAA and NFL try, there's no easy way to legislate out of this on-going problem. And becoming too rigid or heavy-handed about the agent selection process will only hurt many of the athletes both organizations intend to support.
College football and the NCAA have nowhere to hide. The veil has been lifted in so many ways in recent months, as the notion of amateur athletics – while still in existence at Northwestern, Vanderbilt, the service academies, and a few other places – has been exposed as the falsehood it most certainly is. If anyone doubted the point before, there can be no doubt anymore. As long as athletes don't get paid, they will be supremely vulnerable to the presence of agents looking to make a score.
One hastens to say that paying athletes a modest stipend won't make the issue go away; at best, such a move would merely reduce the amount of pressure athletes feel as they try to cash in on their college sports (super)stardom. Yet, the idea that paying athletes is an imperfect move does not mean it should be avoided altogether. College football can't make the perfect the enemy of the good (one could say that's the sport's eternal challenge, with respect to the BCS and so many other issues under the sun).
The larger issue here is how to supplement the paying of athletes with other common-sense proposals and policies. Basically, the key is to take under-the-table agents from the shadowy back alleys and dark corners into the broad light of day. Market activities which occur outside the system and its rules should be brought inside the system. In keeping with the theme of "not making the perfect the enemy of the good," let's trot out an imperfect but worthy analogy: College sports needs to do something akin to legalizing drugs. Remove the "forbidden fruit" aura permeating the issue. Take away the mystery and romance, and instead allow transactions to occur in public view. Reduce the power and pull of a black market-style underground. Decrease incentives for rogue agents to operate secretively and dishonorably. Turn a shadowy realm into an opportunity for holistic education.
What would this look like? Pay players to play football and basketball, at least at the Division I level where the revenues are considerable and the financial stakes so manifestly elevated. Form what would be, in essence, semi-pro or minor-league teams. Athletes would not (have to) be full-time students; they could take on full course loads if they wanted to, but if they did, they would have to give up the stipends they are offered (with the cost savings paying for their full platter of general-interest courses).
All this does not mean that semi-pro – one is tempted to say "mercenary" – athletes in such a scenario would not perform any studying at the schools they represent. Far from it. If athletes make the final roster for a D-I football or basketball team, they will be required to take a specific set-aside curriculum of courses related to the development and training of athletes. There would be a nutrition course, a health/drugs/pharmacology course, a money management course, a media relations course, a weight training course, a broadcasting course (for those who sense that they might not hack it as a professional player but could immediately break into TV or radio), and a few other related offerings. These athletes would not be beholden to their school for four-year or multi-year contracts. Agents could conduct discussions with them at any time; moreover, agents could well be encouraged by schools to teach courses on money management or other matters pertaining to the lifelong care and maintenance of a professional athlete.
Basically, agents can remain in the shadows or they can be shepherded into an open public system. Agents can tempt players in private, largely through the NCAA's stubborn persistence in denying athletes a small fraction of billion-dollar (NCAA Tournament) TV deals and million-dollar apparel sales (think of all the sold No. 15 Florida jerseys Tim Tebow couldn't profit from), or they can be included into a transparent process dedicated to the holistic education of young athletes who need guidance in order to have a thriving career long after they hang up a pro jersey at age 28 or 31 or 37. It's up to the NCAA and college football to realize that the veil has been lifted. Amateurism is seldom in existence at this point. Work with agents instead of continuing this endless charade, this gotcha dance in the darkness.