Even after Nick Saban reached out to Roger Goodell, the NCAA, and the NFLPA last week via three high level conference calls, there are still many at the highest level of the NFL wondering why the agent issue has become their problem. Some of the top NFL brass I spoke to recently are downright confused as to how locking out NFL scouts from their campuses will stop unsavory agents from seducing young men into breaking NCAA rules.
Well, for those who may still be confused as to why the coaches (Tressel, Brown, Davis, Stoops, and Meyer) went to the NFL to help solve the problem, it’s called “leverage”. Saban locked out the scouts in an attempt to bring attention to the issue. He has no intention of making the lockout a permanent policy. I believe Saban and the coaches are asking the NFL to lean on whomever they have to in order to get the problem fixed.
The NCAA and the NFLPA have few resources in terms of an enforcement arm. Furthermore, the NFLPA has bigger fish to fry with the looming CBA issues and is most likely unwilling to contribute money or resources to police the problem. I believe Saban’s first conference call was with the players' union, the second was with the commissioner’s office and the third included the NCAA, the union, the NFL, and even some agents.
I represented several of Saban’s players when he was at Michigan State. He was great at helping my clients get into an all-star game and was always available to take my calls. So I don’t think he is anti-agent; he is just anti-unscrupulous agent. He knows the system is broken. As a matter of fact, he has been openly encouraging highly regarded agents to be available to his seniors and is developing a system at Alabama to help players screen and choose reputable counsel.
The irony in his “call to arms by top college coaches” is that the vast majority of agents want the same things that he wants: accountability, enforcement and punishment of rule-breaking agents. Several reputable agents I spoke to recently are hoping that something gives soon. However, we are not optimistic that the cycle will be broken.
The problem is that right now there are only two governing bodies that can inflict pain on agents: individual states who have antiquated laws on the books that govern agents, and the NFLPA, which has the power to suspend and fine agents. Unfortunately, both governing bodies have little or no enforcement resources.
Furthermore, the inherited conflict that exists within the Players Association is that many of the players who would rule on agent disciplinary actions may be represented by those same agents they have to discipline. In addition, think of the chaos that would unfold if agents with large numbers of top players were decertified. I really don’t think NFLPA player reps want this on their plate right now.
Most states and schools require agents to register with each one of them just to solicit their amateur athletes. Once the rule abiding agent registers, he/she usually then gets treated like a sex offender. Once an agent completes the process, we get a letter saying, “Thank you for registering; now please DO NOT CONTACT the players until they have exhausted their eligibility.” So while some agents honor the rules and wait for the player to finish his last game to give their presentation, the agents who haven’t registered are interacting with those players and will most likely sign them the day after the game. Thus, bad agents are rewarded, good agents are punished. The state laws do absolutely nothing but lock out those who abide by them.
The fact is that not a single agent has been severely punished lately for providing benefits to college players. The majority of hard working reputable agents and coaches want to see the axe fall on somebody’s head. We all want an example set and agents desperately want an even playing field. The problem is there is nobody to swing the blade, so the chain never gets broken. However, this could change in the coming weeks as the NCAA is in the process of handing over incriminating evidence to the union that could implicate some prominent agents. We’ll see!
I am also hearing that there is a committee being formed that includes representatives from the NCAA, the attorney general’s office, the NFL commissioner’s office (Ray Anderson), Grant Teaff of the college coaches’ association, and some others for the purpose of revamping the whole system from top to bottom and coming up with a solution that makes sense for everyone.
I also want to interject something important here. Although the agents are currently the focal point, the issue of providing college players with extra benefits goes way beyond the agent community. There are many so-called independent financial advisors, boosters and marketing professionals out at work who are aggressively greasing palms. Maybe somebody should call the SEC and Madison Avenue, as well; maybe they’ll swing the axe.
Personally, I hope something goes down soon, because I, like the coaches, and like many other hard working agents who play by the rules, am fed up with it.
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