When I first started writing, I established a few standards for myself: Don't use a full sentence quote more than twice in the same story—they aren't important enough; don't be a member of the ethics police; always remember that I'm writing from a fan's perspective; and use public information only.
And don't write about the business side of sports. We hate seeing it, we hate reading about it, and most importantly, we hate that it exists. Detractors will say that being a professional athlete is just like any other job. We have always known this, but we prefer to ignore it because we want every professional athlete to be like Derek Jeter or Michael Jordan—the guys who would play for free. Dreamy nostalgia aside, we don't like hearing about how sports is a business.
To end this disclaimer, I'd like to apologize for focusing this column on agents and money. I wish there was something more important to write about, but at the moment, there isn't. At least it's better than reading the 5,000th article about how this is the year of the pitcher, right?
At the SEC media day on Wednesday, Alabama football coach Nick Saban likened agents who incite improper contact with collegiate football players to pimps. (His words, not mine. By the way, I think Saban's use of that word is the second-worst in history, behind only the probably-regrettably-named MTV reality show Pimp My Ride). Saban went on to say:
"I don't think it's anything but greed that's creating it right now on behalf of the agents...I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. How would you feel if they did it to your child?"
Back it up a sec, Nick. Your players practice four hours a day and participate in many other mandatory team activities, restricting most from taking other jobs. These players are on national television 12 times a year. Television networks, the college they attend, the NCAA, and the coaches themselves all make millions of dollars off these student-athletes, who are denied from receiving payment of any type under NCAA rule. How exactly are the agents who pay them the bad guys?
To put this in comparison, let's say that you are fresh out of college and take a job at a very large, very successful company. The job you take is menial and pays you next to nothing, but in four years you will be promoted to a position that is pretty prestigious and you will receive better wages. For three years, you toil along and make very little over the cost of living. Then, someone from a rival company approaches you and offers you gifts if you agree to work for him in six months. You would receive the same benefits and the same promotion at the rival company. Why would you say no?
It's not a perfect metaphor, but it seems to sum up the situation pretty well. There's no reason for the players to say no to these agents. The NCAA needs to stop pretending that these players are going rogue, when in fact they are just looking out for their own best interests. A large number of college football players come from families that are not well-off financially. They are offered gifts. What reasons do they have to say no?
The NCAA at least realizes that these players don't care if their former colleges are placed under probation or hit with fines and punishments. (It seems some of the coaches don't care either. When was the last time you heard Pete Carroll say anything about USC?), and the NCAA has demanded Reggie Bush's Heisman Trophy back from USC.
Obviously, this is stupid. First off, it's not like Bush cheated. He won the trophy. Let him keep it.
Second, and more importantly, the NCAA is showing its blind stubbornness and dumb policies in this one. They exploit their student-athletes much more than the agents they are combating against. I've already stated why I think college athletes should be compensated in some sort, which is forbidden by the NCAA. The NCAA will not allow this and now is attempting to paint the agents and the players as the bad guys.
"An unnamed Memphis basketball player" never took the SATs and might not have even been eligible to attend college. We all know who he is, but the NCAA has never released his name. Weslye Saunders, a tight end for South Carolina, goes to a party with some agents and his name is given to every media outlet. There's one reason for the double standard.
You guessed it.
The NCAA doesn't pay its players and doesn't want anyone else to either, darn it! There's greed behind its actions in every way.