Alabama head coach Nick Saban was attacked, and then he went on the offensive.
Crimson Tide DL Marcell Dareus — a first-round prospect in next year’s draft — is the focus of an NCAA probe after Alabama ruled Dareus ineligible, reportedly implicated in a South Beach party that allegedly was organized by an agent.
Saban went on the assault against unscrupulous agents, saying that the ones who break rules regarding contact with student-athletes should be banned for a year. A $4 million-a-year man himself, Saban said at the SEC Media Day that if he broke rules and was suspended, it would “(straighten) me out from whatever I was doing.”
But that was just the beginning. He later dropped the big bomb that had NFL agents buzzing. “I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents. The agents that do this — and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?”
Saban opened a can of worms, one that can’t easily be shoved back in.
On the one hand, several hardworking agents spoke out in Saban’s corner. Andy Simms, who represents Patriots first-round pick Devin McCourty, wrote on his Twitter account: “Any agent or financial advisor who participates in paying/bribing ncaa players should be banned from the industry. Period.”
But not everyone was thrilled with the “pimp” comment, which appeared to be an industrywide net casting over them.
“Who are bigger pimps than college coaches?” one Midwest-based NFL agent asked rhetorically, requesting anonymity.
Another veteran agent based on the West Coast chimed in with a longer rant.
“First off, all generalizing is just unprofessional,” he said. "It would be as ignorant as me saying that every coach is a dictator, like Frank Kush or Bobby Knight, and that is where (Saban) went over the line.
“Then he acted like he has a higher power that would prevent the NFL scouts from having full evaluation of his players and restricting them from the Alabama campus.”
What no one — no coach, agent or NFL official — is going to try to do is bury his head in the sand over the fact that there are some agents who run afoul of the rules.
“The top agents in our business all cut corners,” the Midwest agent said. “All of them. The NFL doesn’t care. The college coaches don’t care, Saban included. In fact, he’d rather have someone to blame outside the program, rather than boosters who break rules every day. You mean to tell me that (former Tide OL) Andre Smith, whose family doesn’t make any money, can afford to drive around a (Chevy) Tahoe for three years? It’s not clean.”
The idea is that the NCAA can fight these cases one at a time, the way the Untouchables went after Probation-era bootleggers, but they’ll never clean the game up entirely.
“The bottom line is that there is a problem, and has been, with unscrupulous agents and runners since representation began,” the West Coast agent said. “However, there is no way to regulate this activity. The legitimate top 100 agents do everything on the up-and-up, but there will always be the others out there that will break the rules. Just because there is the death penalty in most states, that does not affect the rate of murders.”
The NFL has chimed in, though relatively quietly. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith was asked about his take on the matter on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning,” saying, “It’s a tremendous concern. We have a staff dedicated at the NFL Players Association whose job it is to not only look over the agents and what they’re doing, but to respond to any instance where we feel that the rules have been violated.
“We have one serious issue under consideration right now. We’re looking at facts where an agent may have had a runner who was posing as an NFLPA employee. That investigation is continuing. I can promise you that if the facts turn out the way that we think right now — not only will we take action against the person who was falsely impersonating an NFLPA employee — we will look to see what action we will take against the agent, and also consider whether there’s any criminal violation. Then I’ll make the appropriate referrals.
“I think that’s an insidious problem. I think that any agent or contract advisor who does that and preys upon kids like that in college is something that we’re going to deal with extremely aggressively.”
But what can they do? They have problems of their own, major ones, that start and end with getting a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place sometime next year to avoid a lockout or limit one from eliminating NFL games.
“I’m for doing something,” Saban said. “I don’t think the system as it is right now is very good. … It’s something that’s affecting college football in a negative way.”
There’s truth to what he said, but some have suggested that it was a statement that came out only after Saban was backed into a corner by the NCAA probe. Is he really concerned about the sanctity of a billion-dollar business, one in which he currently stands on top? Sure, if the NCAA comes in and bashes his throne, he is. But how earnest are Saban’s concerns? He knows the situation as well as anyone, having coached prominently on both levels, college and NFL. He knows the dirty business that goes on, and many would argue that he’s not the cleanest fish in the pond, anyway.
So what can be done? Anything?
Of the six agents I have spoken to over the past three days since Saban made the comments, only the two mentioned above were even willing to speak, and both of them wished to remain anonymous. Five of the six agreed there is a major problem with the way some agents do business, but only one of them felt there was anything anyone could do to actually police this on a widespread level.
One agent who did speak out on the record, respected NFL agent Ralph Cindrich, told the New York Times that the filth can go both ways but that it’s wrong to call all agents and coaches dirty.
“In terms of him throwing that out there, most agents know what goes on in college programs and what programs are clean or not. (If the policing bodies) want to find out who has the dirty programs, give immunity and go off the record with agents, and it would be like a cockfight, the last one standing wins. There are ways to determine the truth of allegations out there."
After Florida’s Urban Meyer joined the SEC bash fest, calling agents “predators,” Cindrich expanded his thoughts for Fanhouse.com.
“I could easily lump coaches in the same category that we were put in by Saban and Meyer,” Cindrich said.
So where do we go from here? Probably nowhere better than where we are now. Suspect agents will tidy up their shops for a few weeks while the chatter still swirls, and then they’ll go back to business as usual. Dirty coaches will have their heads on swivels while the NCAA burns its glare, but they’ll know that there’s only so much it can do.
Who loses in this whole deal? The agents and coaches who play by the rules. Sure, they are championing the cause of the first part of Saban’s statement, shaking fists and throwing out, “Hear, Hear!” But in the end, many of them will lose potential clients and recruits because they are not playing the game.
Saban overstepped when he made the “pimp” comment without proper perspective. And perhaps several agents took offense unnecessarily. But the bottom line is that what has been going on in college football will continue to go on, mostly unchecked. And the rule-followers will continue to get pulled in by the dirty wash of the undertow, tide after tide … or Tide after Crimson Tide, as it were.
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