ACC Commissioner, Players Take Their Turns Talking About Agents
Bottom line: ACC commissioner John Swofford says universities need help when it comes to sanctioning agents who don't act appropriately.
Investigations are ongoing at North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida for alleged improper contact between agents and student-athletes.
Swofford, in his annual forum with the media, waved a white flag, in a sense.
He called for assistance from the NFL, NBA and their respective unions. Swofford indicated it might be time for the NCAA to funnel funds into its enforcement program so it can operate more efficiently.
Swofford applauded the investigation launched by North Carolina's Secretary of State into potential agent involvement with UNC football players and encouraged the other states that have similar laws to do the same.
He also stressed that institutions must "educate, educate, educate" student-athletes to help them discern between right and wrong.
"As an athletic director, as a coach, you feel vulnerable," Swofford said.
"It's not an easy situation to control from an institutional standpoint. .. It's tough to get your arms around. I think we've got to get together, pull these various groups together, all involved, (and) keep athletes themselves in the forefront of our thinking."
The rash of issues led Alabama coach Nick Saban to liken the actions of those rogue agents to the behavior of a pimp last week at the SEC meetings. There were no such gaudy comparisons Sunday.
It's still early. Players met with the media Sunday afternoon, and ACC coaches are on tap Monday.
The NCAA's probe into UNC involves heralded defensive tackle Marvin Austin and receiver Greg Little. While Tar Heels coach Butch Davis addressed the situation for the first time last Thursday, players had not commented -- until Sunday.
Quarterback T.J. Yates admitted the probe was "kind of a" distraction. Yet, he also believes the Tar Heels are focused on the upcoming season. UNC is expected to contend for the ACC's Coastal Division title behind a defense that returns nine starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's best last year.
"As of right now, all the guys on the team ... we're going into the season like we're going to be full strength," Yates said.
"We can't be thinking any other thing, because we just don't want it to affect us. And if we put too much focus on the other stuff that's going on, I think that would kind of just distract us from what our goals are as a team and kind of distract us going into training camp."
Austin was projected as a high pick in the NFL Draft before opting to return to school for his final season. Little had a team-best 62 catches for 724 yards and five scores last year. Their absence would surely impact the Tar Heels as they prepare for their opener against LSU in Atlanta on Sept. 4.
"We kind of look at it as we're already taking our adversity for the season," Yates said.
"So once we get over this little speed bump, we'll be able to put it all behind us and kind of just go forward with the season."
Players in attendance agreed that it's also their responsibility not to break NCAA rules when approached by agents or their representatives. Swofford said as much earlier, saying, "I think our athletes know what's acceptable and not acceptable."
Of course, the May parties on Miami's South Beach involving sports agents are not acceptable and the focus of the NCAA investigation into multiple schools.
Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling, considered one of the league's top cornerbacks, said the best course of action is good defense. "I would simply not put myself in that situation," he said. Miami defensive end Allen Bailey, who plays in the shadow of South Beach, smiled and said he "doesn't go outside" but acknowledged the seriousness of a player's responsibility.
While Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Christian Ponder jokingly said he was offended not to be invited to the Miami parties -- "I expected my invitation to be in the mail," he said with a laugh -- Ponder says it's important players watch their steps and know the rules.
Tennessee and Auburn are among the SEC schools that have hired a consultant to help educate and manage players' dealings with agents.
"A lot of those guys are kind of sneaky in that whole process -- having runners, you know, everywhere," Ponder said.
"They're getting sneaky in what they're doing. A lot of time guys kind of don't really see through it. So that's why you've got to ask a lot of questions through this whole process and be very careful in what you do."
Those next steps are crucial, Swofford said.
Swofford suggested it's worth revisiting NCAA guidelines to see whether the rules still match reality. He noted at one time players weren't allowed to talk to agents at all, a rule that would be completely unenforceable in this day and age.
"I am not saying what we're doing is wrong, (but) saying collectively we ought to take a fresh look ... are we addressing the right way in terms of NCAA rules," Swofford said.
"Are we addressing the right way in terms of needs of our athlete. That's a start. (I) don't think necessarily where the problem lies. That's a start."
Additional reporting by FanHouse college basketball editor Ray Holloman and FanHouse contributor Viv Bernstein.
Contact FanHouse senior writer Jim Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org or please follow on Twitter @JimhenryAOL