SEC abuzz over agent issues
HOOVER, Ala. -- On Sunday, it was South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders.
On Monday, it was former Florida center Maurkice Pouncey.
On Tuesday, it was Alabama defensive end Marcell Darius.
By Wednesday, it was obvious that the topic du jour at Southeastern Conference media days would be the agent issue.
From coaches to players, the aggrieved and the accused went on the offensive. Pouncey, through a lawyer, declared his innocence of allegations that he accepted $100,000 from an agent's representative. (His twin brother, Mike, reaffirmed that, saying the allegation has ruined Maurkice's good name.) Heavyweights Nick Saban and Urban Meyer were indignant. And after watching one-fourth of the football teams in his powerhouse league mentioned in breaking stories about potential agent payoffs, it was time for commissioner Mike Slive to speak on the spreading scourge.
Slive was, as usual, measured in his response. (His only departure Wednesday from customary decorum was to fire a skillfully veiled but very tart shot at departed Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, announcing how excited he was to welcome Kiffin's successor, Derek Dooley. By Slive standards, that was a Molotov cocktail aimed at Kiffy.)
But measured does not equate to saying nothing. To the contrary, Slive advocated for a complete overhaul of NCAA agent legislation.
"It's absolutely necessary that we think outside the box and come up with another model," Slive said after delivering the opening address of the three-day extravaganza. "Start from scratch, with the goal to provide athletes with relevant information they need."
Slive's call for new ideas includes at least a discussion of simply deregulating the agent situation and allowing players to have agents while in college. He did not endorse the idea, but endorsed discussing it.
That premise might make coaches and compliance directors faint, and it would open a Pandora's box of additional problems while searching for a solution. But it speaks to a growing frustration with the decades-long inability to keep agent money out of players' pockets, and a growing desperation to stop what amounts to an agent-related crime wave.
This isn't a new problem. And it appears to be worsening.
It spurred Alabama coach Saban to call rogue agents "pimps." Florida coach Meyer dialed down the rhetoric just a little, calling them "predators."
Agents who utilize runners to put money in the palms of college players deserve the pejoratives. But so do the players who accept the money.
It must be noted that both Saban and Meyer said players who are caught on the take from an agent scandal should be punished -- including their own players. But they and virtually all other coaches are still more interested in pointing fingers than accepting blame.
"I have no respect for people who do that to young people, none," Saban said. "I mean, none. How would you feel if they did it to your child?"
Those "children" are not Snow White in the woods, Nick. They're legal adults. And they've been barraged by messages from panicked compliance directors about avoiding agents and refusing handouts. They know the rules, especially when it comes to cash and gifts.
Some just aren't going to listen. Some might believe they won't get caught. Some might have been on the take for so long -- some dating back to high school -- that it's simply part of how their world goes 'round. Some are just selfish.
"If you want to take money now, you're going to hurt your team later," Kentucky wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "I mean, it's not about me, it's about this program.
"I've been in the low [income] class all my life. What is another couple of years? Hopefully, one day I'll have money. Right now, I don't. Why take money now? I don't want guys on my team to hate me for something I did just because I wanted a quick dollar or something."
Clearly, there are takers out there in the nation's most talented league who don't see things Cobb's way. The widespread belief from college football and agent insiders is that the damaging revelations are far from over.
And the proof of that was evident by the end of ceremonies here Wednesday.
By then, the daily roll call had stretched to cover one more SEC school. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that NCAA officials have informed Georgia that it should expect a visit from its investigators.
That leaves seven other SEC schools to wonder and worry whether Thursday will be their day.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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