If agents are no better than pimps, what does that make you and all those other suddenly sanctimonious college coaches who lie to kids while recruiting them in the first place?
Nick Saban took home $4 million or so last year from Alabama, which has collected more probation-worthy violations (three) than any other high-profile football program in the country over the last two decades. The SEC used to be the runaway leader in the category but was doing a pretty good job cleaning itself up.
At least until last week.
That’s when a raft of accusations about players receiving “extra benefits” from an agent – beginning with a player at ACC school North Carolina – detoured quickly into SEC waters. In short order, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama all learned they were officially under suspicion by the NCAA – Georgia was added to the list Thursday – prompting the tirade from Saban at the conference’s annual media days festivities.
“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents. The agents that do this – and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?
“I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None,” Saban continued. “How would you feel if they did it to your child?”
Oh, I don’t know, maybe the same way some parents felt when their son came home and told them you decided not to renew his scholarship, which undoubtedly said more about the caliber of athlete he is than whether he was a good student.
Or maybe the way the parents felt when their kid came home and told them you were leaving Michigan State for LSU, then LSU for the Miami Dolphins.
And don’t even get us started about leaving the Dolphins in the lurch, since you flat-out lied about leaving Miami. Loyalty can be a funny thing, no?
So spare us the lecture about how much you care. Most coaches genuinely care about their guys, Saban included, and would love to see them graduate. It makes life easier all the way around.
But the No. 1 priority for those at Saban’s level is to win, and make plenty of money doing it. No one should have any illusions about that. At the very top of Division I football, everyone is using everyone – the suits who run the Bowl Championship Series, the university presidents, coaches, athletic directors and yes, those evil agents – and all of them are getting paid except for the kids.
To be fair, the kids are plenty culpable. They know the rules, and the overwhelming majority abide by them. On top of that, every big-time athletic program has at least one full-time compliance officer, and some employ as many as seven or eight. No one is forcing them to go to parties, drive cars they can’t afford or take envelopes stuffed with cash.
And Saban is right in one important way about the greaseball agents and their runners. They know the temptations they’re dangling could not only derail a kid’s career, it could put an entire program underwater for years to come, a la Southern California after Reggie Bush.
Everyone hates agents – even scrupulous agents – unless they have one. The problem with making unscrupulous agents the villains in this drama is that just like the kids they pick off, they’re only the low-hanging fruit. Considering the way college football is structured, it’s nothing short of laughable to hear the coaches and conference commissioners occupying the branches above to suggest the rot could be stopped there.
Big-time college football is effectively running a minor-league system for the NFL, and they’re doing it largely on the backs of kids whose football schoolwork is so demanding that many will never be able to take advantage of the scholarship that gets thrown in with it.
It’s not about the scholarships, anyway. As incoming Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly noted not too long ago, both of his predecessors routinely boasted some of the best graduation rates in the nation and both got fired. But not surprising, the most honest assessment of the whole mess was uttered by Steve Spurrier.
When asked about how best to go about cleaning it up, the old ballcoach admitted he didn’t have a solution, then added:
“I guess sometimes the lure of taking some cash right away affects all of us.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org
(This version CORRECTS Removes incorrect reference to Saban coaching at Akron in 10th paragraph.)