Three powerful men, essentially powerless to fight a group that works in the shadows and passes cash to players more seamlessly than the greasiest booster ever dreamed. In almost any other facet of college football, the coaches of the past two BCS champions and the commissioner of one of the nation's most powerful and lucrative conferences could effect change with a wave of the hand or with a nod of the head. But against the agents, the financial advisors and the runners, they can do nothing.
The coaches can't stop it. The conference commissioners can't stop it. Despite the high-profile blitzkrieg it launched this month, the NCAA can't stop it, either.
Only two groups have the power to make a dent. The NFL Players Association decides who is allowed to represent NFL players and can yank the certification of an unscrupulous agent, but it has no dominion over financial advisors, marketers and the other remoras that circle potential NFL players hoping to siphon off scraps. (It should be noted that
In January, Illinois will become the 39th state to adopt the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, which calls for stiff penalties for anyone who passes himself off as a representative without a state license or for anyone who pays a college athlete with eligibility remaining. Since California, Michigan and Ohio already have their own non-UAAA laws, that leaves only eight states (Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont and Virginia) that don't regulate agents.
The coaches talked a big game Wednesday. Saban had the money quote. "I don't think it's anything but greed that is creating it right now on behalf of the agents," Saban said. "Agents that do this, I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp? I have no respect for people who do that to young people, none."
Saban has suggested the possibility of banning NFL scouts from Alabama's campus as a way to pressure the league into taking action. That would only hurt the players he's trying to help, and it could harm the program. If NFL scouts were banned at Alabama, Auburn would mention prominently in its recruiting pitch that it welcomes NFL scouts. If the entire SEC banded together and banned scouts from campuses, ACC schools would use that to their advantage. Plus, such a move would drive the scouts to the agents and runners, some of whom are supremely gifted talent evaluators.
It's also a bit disingenuous that coaches are only now breathing fire about this issue. They've known about it for years, but it's bad for business if Saban, Meyer, Georgia's
That brings us to the NFLPA, which does have a measure of power. Wednesday, NFLPA executive director
But they haven't been. Nalley received a two-year ban in 1998 for paying Enis, but most of the NFLPA's recent high-profile suspensions were for agent misconduct involving players already in the league. Even when the organization tried to help -- in 2006, it banned agent contact until after a player's junior season in college -- it backfired. The rule put the scrupulous agents at a disadvantage against the rule-breakers, and it had to be amended. Plus, the NFLPA only regulates contract advisors, and most of the dirty ones are smart enough to use intermediaries to avoid a direct connection between agent and player.
The only people who can stop those intermediaries work in law enforcement. Most states can charge runners or marketers with a felony for acting as an agent without a state license. It would behoove the NCAA to call in law enforcement in every agent case, because prosecutors have the subpoena power the NCAA doesn't.
In at least two of the cases currently under review by the NCAA, law enforcement has gotten involved. The University of Florida police department is investigating an accusation that former Gators center
"We'll be investigating the agents," Marshall told WTVD-TV. "We will not be investigating the school."
If someone goes to jail in Florida or North Carolina for this, it might slow the flow of money from agents to players. The loss of freedom is a far worse punishment than the loss of a license.
The coaches and commissioners can talk all they want about pimps, but they're powerless here. Until law enforcement agencies begin treating unscrupulous agents and runners the way they treat actual pimps, nothing is going to change.