July 23 (Bloomberg) -- Not even a Richard Pryor riff is more laugh-out-loud funny than a group of college football coaches claiming to be outraged over the evils of unscrupulous player agents.
As if agents and their minions, called runners around campus, are the only ones to blame for the seedy side of big-time college sports.
You have to wonder if coaches such as Alabama’s Nick Saban, who during the Southeastern Conference media day earlier this week compared agents to pimps, ever sit down to think about why an athlete would jeopardize the team and teammates he purports to love for a few bucks or a snazzy ride courtesy of an agent trying to land a new client.
Hmm, maybe it’s because the players aren’t blind to the fact that everyone who touches big-time college sports, everyone except the main attractions, that is, is getting rich.
Take, for instance, the holier-than-thou Saban, who, according to ESPN, in 2007 agreed to an eight-year contract worth a guaranteed $32 million.
“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents,” Saban said. “The agents that do this -- and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?”
Speaking of making money from the work of others, Florida’s Urban Meyer, who guided the Gators to a pair of national championships, not to mention plenty of booster bucks, last year received a six-year contract extension that pays him $4 million a year. At the time, the only coaches paid more were Southern California’s Pete Carroll, who got $4.4 million, and Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, who pocketed $4.2 million. Weis was fired because he couldn’t win enough. He kept the money, though.
Carroll’s Trojans, meantime, were hit with four years’ probation, a two-year bowl ban and scholarship restrictions after the National Collegiate Athletic Association found rampant rules violations in the athletic department, especially in the men’s football and basketball teams.
Most of the infractions involved Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo, who both received improper benefits, including cash.
Carroll says he didn’t know about the improprieties involving Bush. Hard to believe. He should’ve known. It’s his job to know. It’s his job to protect the program. Oops, make that was his job. Past tense.
Carroll, you see, sensing the college sports cops were closing in, bolted to Paul Allen’s Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League, where winning is the lone rule and regulation.
Southern Cal, by the way, returned Bush’s trophy to the Heisman Trust. What, exactly, is Carroll giving back? Nothing. Even worse, he’s on a nationwide tour promoting his new book, “Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play like a Champion.”
I would’ve suggested another, more appropriate, title: “Win Forever: See, Hear and Speak No Evil.”
Carroll’s former players, the same kids to whom he promised this, that and the world during the recruiting process, have to go back to a program in purgatory, not exactly a morale booster for any athlete wishing to perform on the grand stage. If I were an agent, that’s where I’d be, whispering in the ears of talented kids stewing because they got shortchanged.
Still, why would Bush knowingly break the rules, exposing his teammates, many of whom weren’t headed to the NFL, to the fallout.
Maybe it’s because he made the Trojans countless millions when you factor in ticket sales, donations, endowments, television money, and bowl-game payouts.
“I have no respect for people who do that to young people,” Saban said.
Nothing was done to Bush, who was old enough to know right from wrong. He could have said no, not me. But he didn’t. Everyone else was getting paid, except him. Why should he have to wait until after the NFL draft?
All this ugliness is allowed to happen, in part, because university presidents, so-called educators, have ceded control to coaches who are treated as deities and are accountable to no one.
The NCAA recently announced it was investigating players at a number of football factories, including Florida, where former offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey -- now with the NFL’s Steelers -- denied claims that he accepted $100,000 from an agent. Investigations are also under way at North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia, where players allegedly attended a party hosted by an agent.
Without the athletes, there are no college sports. No games to televise. No jerseys to sell. No alumni to milk. Maybe it’s time the players had agents looking out for their best interests. Maybe a scholarship isn’t enough, not for star attractions that put backsides in the bleachers.
Tell you this, though, if it all goes haywire at Alabama, and the NCAA police promise punishment, Saban won’t stick around to help those kids make sense of the big, bad world of agents.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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