By now, I'm sure most of you have seen the clips of Alabama coach Nick Saban spouting off about evil agents and the need for the NFL to clean up their actions. You know, the one where he threatens to limit the access of NFL scouts to his players and equates agents to "pimps." Quite a performance, really.
No surprise that the interactions between college players and agents was suddenly at the forefront of Saban's mind during SEC media day. There's an ongoing investigation into improper dealings between agents and an Alabama player threatening to possibly cost Crimson Tide defensive end Marcell Dareus to lose his eligibility. Without a doubt, there are street agents and runners who are in essence buying the services of some future NFL clients. It's seedy and it's dirty. It's also something the NFL, NFLPA and many agents wish could be expunged.
But it's naive to paint any easy solutions to the problem, and to demand the league just somehow take care of it, or to somehow pretend that the wallet-stuffing NCAA and its "amateur" football factories are somehow mere victims in all of this is disingenuous at best. When Saban calls for the NFLPA to simply put a stop to this -- "It's very difficult for the NCAA to control it and it's very unfair to college football," he opined -- it's a myopic approach to a complex issue.
So let's deconstruct Saban's argument, parsing out the hyperbole, grandstanding and hypocritical nature of much of it. First of all, from a league standpoint, it is the NFLPA and not the NFL that governs agents, and handles certifying contract advisors and decertifying them. It is hardly uncommon for agents to lose their certification for various missteps. Union head DeMaurice Smith has been adamant that he would work with authorities in any way and harshly penalize any agent found to have paid a client or acted in a manner that would cost a player his eligibility. He has made that amazingly clear. There is no lack of willingness on behalf of the NFLPA to decertify an agent for a year or more for such actions.
The sad reality is, and I suspect Saban must know this, there is usually not a paper trail or sufficient proof in these cases. There is plenty of hearsay and rumor, but it is usually an uncertified agent -- a street runner or in some cases an upstart marketing agent -- who is throwing the party or handing out wads of cash. Those individuals are not certified by the NFLPA, and there is only so much that can be done to prevent it from happening. One would think that when a certain player started showing up to practice in a $50,000 car of wearing $15,000 in jewelry, a coach -- the same one who promised to nurture and look after a player during his recruiting spiel -- might notice and try to intervene, but it's probably easier to turn a blind eye and keep piling up the Ws, the shoe contracts and television deals.
We all know the NCAA is making millions (billions?) off the sweat of these kids, with the coaches and athletic directors getting richer and richer. Furthermore, these student athletes could suffer an injury at any point during their college career that could cost them a shot at the NFL and untold earnings. But let's wag a faux-moral finger in the face of these kids -- many of them impoverished -- and call on the NFL to clean up the mess, when on many campuses, Saban's included, the coaches haven't been able to prevent their players from getting in trouble with the law.
Beyond that, the schools often foster and perpetuate this culture of greed. Let's not forget how amoral and corrupt the recruiting process can be. There have been instances where athletes are essentially bought by boosters, taking the best deal on the table. Then, they are processed for a few years, regardless of their true educational growth -- we all know the stories of players passing classes from year to year despite not doing the work -- in the chase for bowl dollars. This is big business, no two ways about it.
So should it be surprising that after being recruited via the almighty dollar that in turn, when choosing an agent, some players and their families would expect to be compensated up front as well? That they would, again, in essence, take their services to the highest bidder is somehow shocking? Who are we kidding here?
And I don't recall any righteous indignation by Saban about the plight of teenage athletes when he left LSU for the greener pastures of the NFL with the Miami Dolphins (despite his constant denials he would do so), leaving behind young men he recruited and made promises to. And seems to me he just might have used the services of an agent to help broker that deal. And when he was flailing as an NFL coach, I don't recall him railing against corrupt agents. But suddenly now, when it's in his backyard, and the cameras are on at media day, it's quite the production.
The comments about how open his program is to NFL scouts, and veiled threats about possibly limiting that access in the future if this agent problem isn't curbed, omitted some key factors as well. Cooperating and helping scouts isn't just some altruistic endeavor -- it's the lifeblood of any coach's sales pitch. If he can help scouts take a shine to his players, and maybe help them get drafted a little higher, that's what he sells to the next batch of high school players. Something along the lines of ... Look how many first-round picks we had! Look at how much our guys are making in the pros! Come be a part of this!
But I'm sure all the media attention from these self-righteous and self-serving remarks isn't hurting recruiting. This rhetoric will sure go over well with a lot of high school athletes and their families. So in that regard, it's mission accomplished. As a meaningful discourse on how to clean up at least one ugly area of college sports, however, it fails miserably.