Training camps have yet to convene, but already the 2010 college football season has achieved a rhetorical high point. That would be Alabama coach Nick Saban comparing agents to pimps.
Would it be too bold to suggest the addition of some furry trim (no pun intended) around the brim of Saban’s famous straw hat?
Consider what’s required to be a pimp: the cold-bloodedness, the willingness to physically exploit young people you claim to protect, and above all, a love of money. The Mack daddy’s is the dollar.
But if agents are pimps, then what of big-time college coaches?
A pimp says, You’re my girl.
I’ll always be here.
I’ll make you a star.
What does a coach say?
You’re my guy.
I’ll always be here.
I’ll make you a star.
Difference is, as many a former high-school star will attest, a coach can lie to your mom, too.
The pimp-agent comparison, which Saban made in grand fashion on SEC media day, arose because defensive end Marcell Dareus attended a party thrown by an agent on South Beach. That makes players from four SEC teams (not to mention another from the ACC) being investigated for improper contact with agents. The news broke just as USC announced that it would be returning the Heisman Trophy won by Reggie Bush, who, with his family, accepted about $300,000 from a would-be agent while toiling away as an undergrad in the service of Pete Carroll.
It’s worth noting that Saban suspended Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith for the 2009 Sugar Bowl for contact with an agent. Just the same, for a guy decrying the scourge of pimp-agents entrapping “young people at a very difficult time in their life,” Alabama’s highly-paid state employee declined to push for a criminal prosecution.
“But in prosecuting the guy that did wrong, we would have put our institution in jeopardy — possibly — from an NCAA standpoint,” he said. “We didn’t do it. But then the same guy is standing in line trying to give our players money this past year and nothing gets done about it.”
In other words, to use Saban’s metaphor, going after the predator-pimp was less important than keeping the brothel up and running.
The problem, said Florida coach Urban Meyer is an “epidemic right now. It’s always been there, but I think we’ve reached a point where the magnitude of college football is really overwhelming.”
Truth is, the chances of eliminating illicit player-agent relationships are about the same as eliminating prostitution. There’s a reason they call it the world’s oldest profession. Pimping, agenting and coaching all come down to one guiding principle, simple economic determinism. NCAA rules ensure that big-time college football and basketball players will labor for considerably less than their market value. Inevitably, a black market economy will arise to make up the difference. Enter the agents and their runners.
It’s enough to make you think twice about Reggie Bush. Yes, he was corrupt. But at least, unlike most hookers, he wasn’t a victim. He got his, just like coaches make sure they get theirs.
And before rich men like Saban and Meyer speak on the magnitude of the problem, they might consider the magnitude of the hypocrisy.
“What goes on with agents and players is clearly exploitive,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, a much-needed advocacy group. “But the same is true about the vast majority of college coaches. The bad news is that while agents can be disciplined for shady activities, the NCAA looks the other way while coaches regularly deceive recruits. I haven’t heard of a coach who tells his recruits that the athletic program can leave him in debt for sports-related medical expenses, or that the school can take away a scholarship for any reason at all — including injury.”
Of course not. I’ll always be here for you, says the coach … until I get a better gig …
“How are the coaches who deceive recruits to get more wins and more money any different than the agent who deceives the athlete?” asks Huma, a former UCLA linebacker.
And why is it acceptable for college coaches to be tempted by NFL money, but not college kids?
The players stranded at USC got probation. What did Pete Carroll get? About $7 million per from the Seattle Seahawks — about $3.5 million more than the pittance he was making at ‘SC.
For the record, Saban signed a mere eight-year, $32 million deal at ‘Bama — this after famously telling reporters who covered him with the Dolphins, “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” He was in the first year of an $18.45 million contract with LSU — then the biggest deal in college football — when he left for Miami. In 1999, he bolted from Michigan State, where he was making $697,000, for a half-million dollar raise.
For the sake of this argument, I’d like to tell you that Saban is more pimp-like than his contemporaries. But the truth is, he’s just better at it than them. He gets better talent, uses that talent more effectively, and of course, makes more money. He has some help, of course, in the form of a very good agent.
The guy’s name is Jimmy Sexton. Sexton also represents Steve Spurrier, a guy who made his own score in the NFL; Tommy Tuberville, who became Auburn’s head coach two days after telling the people at Ole Miss “they’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box”; Lane Kiffin, who replaced Carroll after just one season and six “secondary” NCAA violations; and Houston Nutt, who graciously accepted a great deal from Ole Miss just hours after resigning from Arkansas.