With another season of college football set to begin on Thursday, attention now turns squarely to the playing field. Yet continuing NCAA inquiries into possible improper contact between athletes and agents at Alabama, North Carolina and other high-profile programs guarantee the issue won’t go away quietly.
State laws intended to protect the amateurism of college athletes have had little effect. An Associated Press review found that more than half of the 42 states with sports agent laws have yet to revoke or suspend a single license, or invoke penalties of any sort.
Neither has the Federal Trade Commission, which in 2004 was given oversight authority by Congress.
Many of the state laws allow schools to sue rogue agents whose flirtations with future pros can cost colleges lost NCAA revenue, erase winning seasons and tarnish carefully constructed reputations.
Stoops said the problem with agents is worse than at any time he can remember in his 12 years as a head coach. There are more agents and financial advisers seeking out college athletes, and trying to reach them at an earlier age, than ever before, he believes.
But with NCAA rules set up to penalize the schools and athletes — rather than the agents — that cuts the incentive for colleges to launch investigations.
“The only way to really start having a chance to clean it up would be for the NCAA to allow players to come forth and say, ‘These guys and these guys and these guys are doing this, this and this,'” Stoops said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who earlier this summer organized a conference call on the problem with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NCAA officials, the NFL players’ union and several other top college coaches, wants to allow juniors to meet with agents rather than just seniors. The NFL Players’ Association forbids agent contacts with underclassmen.
“I don’t think we should have a junior rule. That’s where we have most of our problems because they’re not allowed to talk to agents,” he said.
“When you have prohibition, you have bootleggers,” Saban added. “We haven’t had a problem with a senior since we’ve been here. They’re all allowed to talk to agents, they talk to them here. They don’t have to make any deals on a street corner.”
NCAA rules allow agents to meet with college athletes but forbid those students from entering into contracts — including oral agreements — with agents or accepting meals, gifts, transportation and other incentives as a hook to sign contracts later.
For Florida sports agent Darren Heitner, nothing short of a national regulatory body will cure the ills of agent excesses. He has little hope that the recent “summit” involving Saban, Goodell, Florida’s Urban Meyer, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and others will result in meaningful change.
“I can guarantee you that there are still players calling agents every day asking for money,” he said. “Just because a few coaches have a meeting doesn’t change the reality.”
The issue caught the attention of several NCAA committees even before the recent spate of reports involving Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The Division I Amateurism Cabinet discussed agent oversight at its June meeting and plans to do so again in September and February 2011, said Division I vice president David Berst. So will the division’s Leadership Council, a group of campus presidents, athletic directors and other school leaders.
Any possible changes that arise from those conversations likely wouldn’t occur until at least 2012, Berst said. The committees report their findings to schools and conferences. And since the NCAA is a membership-driven organization, those members are the ones responsible for proposing policy changes.
“This just can’t be a reaction to a news story,” he said. “Any change needs to be based on values and a philosophy of how this should work for the student-athlete.”