Commentary

Florida, Alabama grandstanding?

Are Urban Meyer and Nick Saban really closing practices because of agents?

Updated: August 13, 2010, 5:02 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

If you believe what college football coaches have said about sports agents lately, they rank somewhere between salmonella and the crusted-up bug juice on car windshields.

Florida coach Urban Meyer explained this week he chose to close Florida's first few practices to the public and the media because he was concerned about the "scumbags" who had access to his players. And prior to Meyer's strong rebuke, Alabama coach Nick Saban compared agents to "pimps" at SEC media days.

My, my, the air is thick with hypocrisy and grandstanding.

[+] EnlargeMaurkice Pouncey
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Maurkice Pouncey denies that he took money from an agent while still playing for Florida.

Certainly there seems to be a rash of high-profile college football programs being investigated for alleged incidents involving agents and college football players, but I hope I'm not the only one who is greeting these tirades against naughty agents with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Is Meyer suddenly concerned about who has access to Gators practices because the NCAA is looking into whether Maurkice Pouncey accepted $100,000 from the representative of a sports agent while a Gator, or is he closing practices because, like most college football coaches, he is a control freak and uses any excuse he can to close ranks?

I covered Saban when he coached at Michigan State and when he was with the Miami Dolphins, and he treats his football program with secrecy and limited access akin to the Pentagon. So I have a hard time believing Saban didn't have ulterior motives when he banned NFL scouts from his practices until after the preseason.

Saban, Meyer and other coaches claim they are speaking out against agents and squeezing the NFL strictly out of concern for their players, but their intensified interest seems convoluted.

I'm aware that agents swindle kids all the time, telling the athletes what they want to hear and positioning themselves so that they can influence those athletes as much as possible. Agents aren't magnanimous. Their goal is to make as much money off a college player as they can.

But it's the same with a lot of college football coaches.

Besides, how dare some of these coaches question agents' ethics when they routinely break their own contracts? And most coaches employ agents who quietly shop them for jobs so they can either move on to a better program or have leverage for a raise.

Saban calling agents "pimps" is the epitome of the velour hat calling out the floor-length mink. I want a lecture from Saban on unethical agent behavior about as much as I want Lane Kiffin to give me a sermon on loyalty.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Stephen Chernin/Getty ImagesShouldn't suitcases of cash, or a big check, have been returned along with the Heisman if rules were broken?

"I don't think it's anything but greed that's creating it right now on behalf of the agents," Saban said at the SEC media days. "The agents that do this -- and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?"

No one would know more about running game on folks than Saban, considering the way he bailed on Michigan State, LSU and the Miami Dolphins.

Saban, Meyer and Ohio State's Jim Tressel recently participated in a conference call with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and expressed their concerns about agents and also pushed for the NFL to do more to police agents' behavior with players.

But if those coaches really wanted to move the conversation forward, they would discuss the lack of financial compensation for their players with the NCAA or chastise a system that negates Reggie Bush's Heisman Trophy, yet allows USC to keep every dime it earned off of Bush's collegiate brilliance. If Meyer, Saban and Tressel truly want to be advocates for their players and are that concerned about shady agents, then they need to champion sanctions that will severely punish coaches when their players break the rules.

But I don't expect them to go there because that could possibly threaten their own livelihoods, force them into an adversarial position with their peers or undermine the grasp they have on their programs.

College athletes aren't vulnerable to agents because those agents are visible at practices. They're vulnerable because when they survey the landscape, they see coaches such as Saban, Tressel and Meyer making millions of dollars a year, schools erecting multimillion-dollar buildings on campus and alumni writing blank checks, and then they realize their scholarships only account for a microscopic portion of a larger financial pie.

It's easy for coaches like Meyer and Saban to launch a smear campaign against agents because when they leave the practice field, they get in their expensive cars and drive to their palatial homes.

Agents sometimes exploit college athletes, but that's far from the real issue. College football has become a hustle. It's just too bad no one is willing to be truthful about who is really hustling whom.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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