Alabama Coach Nick Saban last week infamously referred to them as "pimps," and apparently the NCAA agrees with this shady characterization of agents trying to lure its "student athletes." In the past few weeks, the NCAA has instituted a serious crackdown on college athletes interacting with agents.
Allegations of improper benefits from agents, financial advisers, and runners, which started with Reggie Bush at the University of Southern California and led to harsh penalties imposed on USC, have made their way across the U.S. to Florida, South Carolina, UNC Chapel Hill, and Georgia.
It's well-known that agents offer college football players money before they declare for the NFL draft. Not only does this practice violate NCAA and National Football League Players Assn. regulations, it also is against the law. In Florida, where former Gators standout Maurkice Pouncey is under investigation for taking $100,000, an agent found to have given money would be charged with a second-degree felony. South Florida is currently ground central for the investigation—the NCAA is looking into whether agents or their representatives paid for trips that elite college athletes from the aforementioned schools made to the region this spring, centered on a birthday party thrown by San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore at his home there in May and a separate party thrown by an agent at South Beach nightclub Cameo.
Getting the NFL into the Act
But until players are penalized for accepting money, don't expect things to change. And it certainly doesn't help the situation that several elite college football programs in question are having a hard time selling season ticket packages. For the upcoming college football season, the University of Georgia was forced to lower its cost for a first-time season ticket buyer to $1,550, down from $10,651 two years ago. The University of South Carolina reports that its ticket sales are down 20 percent since 2008.
ACC Commissioner John Swafford argues that existing penalties for agents who violate the law in interacting with student athletes should be strengthened—Swafford noted at the ACC's media day that the State of North Carolina's current maximum fine sports agents can receive is $25,000. And such respected coaches as Duke University's David Cutliffe have called for a congressional investigation of the situation.
But here's a simpler solution involving college football's biggest carrot, the NFL. The NFLPA should ban agents found violating the rules, and the NFL should suspend guilty players once they make it to the pros. Under this scenario, both parties will be discouraged from offering or taking money.
And at the rate top universities are being dragged into this mess, desperate times call for desperate measures.