The SEC Goes to War Against Agents and the NCAA
Slive (right) went further saying that the NCAA rules "may be as much a part of the problem as they are part of the solution."
Keep in mind that these were Slive's written comments, not his responses to media questions. Slive knew he had the bully pulpit, that the message he conveyed to the assembled masses would be transmitted far and wide.
And he chose this opportunity to go after agents.
Here's a solid guess: Because there are about to be a whole lot of SEC institutions involved in the growing scandal -- so far Florida, Alabama and South Carolina have been implicated in news reports -- relating to agent recruitment of league players. And just before this story was filed SI.com reported that Georgia was also investigating an improper player relationship.
Slive is trying to get ahead of the story. In fact, he's trying so hard to get ahead of the story that the SEC's top two coaching rivals, Saban and Meyer, last seen attempting to send each other to early deaths in the Georgia Dome, followed up the commissioner by laying their own smack down on agents and the NCAA rules that govern them.
How intense was the commentary?
Saban referred to agents by inquiring, "How are they any better than a pimp?"
Seriously, Saban said that. What Vegas odds could you have gotten on Saban using the word "pimp" at media days before his appearance? 10,000 to 1, a million to 1. But that wasn't all. Meyer built on the theme. Referring to agents on college campuses, Meyer said, "It's an epidemic now." Meyer also said that agents are "predators" and must be "severely punished."
Predators and pimps from the two men with four national titles between them? That's some damn strong condemnation.
Yep, to hear the coaches and the commissioner tell you, the SEC, the same league that sent a record 49 players to the NFL last season, is now under siege not from other conferences, but from agents.
Coaches want agents to pay. Saban thinks any agent who "entraps and takes advantage of young people" should lose his license for a year. Meyer railed against a system that allows a player to be punished but leaves agents free to actually profit from their illegal contacts. Meanwhile, Slive continued to work the NCAA rules with a velvet scalpel, slashing and dashing the league's governing body so cleanly that the NCAA wasn't even aware it was being eviscerated.
The triple barrel attack from the SEC's three biggest guns on the opening of SEC media days gives us a clear indication that the league finds itself under siege. If you're a fan of an SEC team that has not yet been implicated, take no sport in your rivals' misfortune. Before long your team is going to be implicated as well.
What should your average fan take away from this unprecedented opening day attack on agents and the NCAA rules that govern them?
I'll tell you six things we learned today.
1. This problem is big.
Again, Slive chose to make his stand on this issue in front of 1,000 media members. What's more. he wrote it out to ensure that he made the exact points that he wanted to make. Slive, a skilled lawyer who knows the power of language, is careful with his words and he positively, to use a Saban noun, pimp-slapped the NCAA. And if you think it was a coincidence that the two most famous coaches in the conference backed up the commissioner without knowing how Slive was beginning the day, then you probably think that humans used to ride dinosaurs for fun.
Yes, this was a concerted attack by the SEC upon agents, but it was also a systemic attack upon the rules of the NCAA.
2. This problem is growing.
Runners have always pursued players for agents, but now they do in a modern communication era when players are easier to reach than they ever were before.
Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, it's so easy to get in touch with a player now that runners have to be worrying that their jobs will get outsourced to India.
The aggressiveness of the SEC's assault upon this issue shows the league is legitimately worried about the eligibility of many players. This isn't an isolated issue.
3. Somewhere an agent or runner has gone rogue and is taking down everyone around him.
Someone presented the NCAA with all of these players' heads on a platter. That's the only way to explain the extensive nature of this investigation and how many programs are implicated.
But it's important to point out that all this rogue agent or runner has done is demonstrate how corrupt the existing system truly is. This issue didn't begin last month, it's existed for years. Only now it's reaching the light of day.
Agents and runners are in cahoots with players. Both are gaming the system. Only now, instead of settling on gaming the system, the agent or runner has turned on the player.
What a mess.
4. Remember when Bill Clinton said, "That depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is?"
Now colleges have to deal with their own legalistic mess. "That depends on what the meaning of the word 'know' is."
Proving knowledge is one of the most difficult obstacles in the legal world. Under current rules, a coach like Pete Carroll now has incentive to bury his head in the sand and disclaim all knowledge of impropriety rather than ask questions and find out something untoward.
Is that really what we want?
A system where coaches cast a blind eye toward any impropriety solely so they can say, "I didn't know," as soon as the news breaks?
I don't think so.
But that's the system we've got.
5. Agents have power.
Lost in the kerfuffle over the pimp comment was this telling statement by Saban about Andre Smith being ruled ineligible for the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
"I'll give you an example," Saban said. "We had an issue a couple years ago with Smitty (Andre Smith), who got suspended for the Sugar Bowl. You know, we probably could have prosecuted the guy. But in prosecuting the guy that did wrong, we would have put our institution in jeopardy -- possibly -- from an NCAA standpoint. We didn't do it. But then the same guy is standing in line trying to give our players money this past year and nothing gets done about it. It's not a good situation."
What's the takeaway here?
Schools are afraid to prosecute agents because, in the resulting discovery, it might come out that the agents and runners had more relationships with their players, past and present, than have previously been reported.
So how can you possibly regulate a flawed system when regulating that flawed system might lead to a much bigger punishment from your governing body?
Try and punish me all you want, the agent says, but if you do, I'm taking you down with me. Because those agents and runners know where the proverbial bodies are buried.
6. It's hard to prove that an agent did something wrong.
Because the agents are hiding behind the runners and intermediaries that make the initial contacts with players. The agents aren't making these contacts.
This way everyone has plausible deniability. The agents, the players and the runners.
What's more, when runners are friends of the players, how does a coach know what's a legitimate social outing and what's a paid for trip that's going to bring the NCAA down like a hammer on an institution?
Put plainly, he can't.
Saban wants to suspend agents who have improper contact that costs players eligibility, but the agents will claim they had nothing to do with runners who contact players -- that those runners are rogues not sanctioned by the agent.
In other words, how do you prove inappropriate contact by the agents without a long trail of direct contact?
The agents will cut loose the runners, claim they're rogues who acted without permission and be off in search of a new runner the next day.
The circle of agent life.
As the SEC prepares to continue the golden age of the conference's rule in college football, it's clear that Slive, Saban, and Meyer view agents and the NCAA rules that govern those agents as one of biggest threats facing the league's Pax SECana. Ultimately, in the highly competitive SEC, fear is the greatest source of team union.
After four years of dominance, it's clear that the rest of college football can't compete with the SEC's players when those players are on the field.
Now the only question that remains is, will all those players be on the field come fall?