"They found me everywhere and anywhere," says Green Bay rookie fullback Brent Fullwood, the Packers' No. 1 draft choice this year, who went to Auburn. "They'd walk right in where they wanted to. I'd be washing my car, talking with friends, and they'd just show up."
"I actually couldn't study at night sometimes," says former McNeese State basketball player Jerome Batiste, the third-round draft pick of the Knicks this year. "I found myself studying the agents more than my schoolwork."
"I had my phone turned off midway through my senior year," says the New York Giants' No. 1 pick, Mark Ingram, a wide receiver from Michigan State. "With all the agents calling, it got to be too much."
Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm describes the recruitment of blue-chip college athletes by agents as "a gutter brawl." A projected middle-round draft choice who 15 years ago might have been wooed by one or two agents is today pursued by 50 or 60 or more.
October 18, 1987
"This is worse than being recruited out of high school, because there are so many [agents]," says Miami of Ohio running back George Swarn, the fifth-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Agents start going after football and basketball players as early as the athletes' sophomore year in college and in some cases earlier—in rare cases even in high school. They send letters and brochures, call at all hours and show up out of nowhere in hotel lobbies where players are staying on the road. Many of them are undeterred by NCAA rules forbidding student-athletes to accept money or to agree to be represented by an agent before completing their eligibility.
To get a foot in the door, some agents go to pro teams and pretend to represent a particular college player. They extract expressions of interest from a team and then approach the player with assurances that they can get the player drafted in a high round by that team. Other agents are said to have paid college coaches in return for their help in lining up clients. Former Oklahoma star Marcus Dupree told SI that one reason he quit the Sooners for the USFL midway through his sophomore year was that an unnamed Oklahoma coach had made life miserable for him after Dupree spurned a USFL contract proffered by an agent whom the coach had touted. "The coach was getting a cut; I know that for a fact," says Dupree. Says Sooners coach Barry Switzer, "It's very difficult for me to believe that [Dupree's accusation] would be true. I've talked to my staff about it. They tell me that they don't know anything about it. Maybe Marcus is trying to create a reason why he left Oklahoma."
An agent may try to get the inside track by studying up on a player's family, courting his parents and sending out so-called runners—recruiting assistants—to visit the player and his family to demonstrate the agent's interest in him. They make big promises; I can make you more money; I'll take care of your family; I'll fly you and your girlfriend to the Coast. To further cloud a player's judgment, they plant rumors and cast doubt about the honesty and reliability of their rivals.
"If you're a top-notch player, it's automatic that you're going to be offered money by agents to sign with them," says Bengals wide receiver Tim McGee, formerly of Tennessee. "There's a 100 percent chance you'll be offered money. I was offered a Mercedes. I could have had a little bit of everything. I could have had a house for my mother." McGee has admitted that he accepted $3,500 from New York agent Norby Walters while he still had eligibility left at Tennessee.
"The most I was ever offered to sign with an agent was $65,000," says former LSU linebacker Michael Brooks, the Broncos' third-round pick. "He had it in his briefcase, and he showed it to me. It was in $100 bills. A lot of [agents] said they'd put me in an apartment. A lot of them said if I signed early, they'd put the contract in a safe-deposit box and they wouldn't tell anybody about it. They said they'd fly me to New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston. I turned them all down." Brooks also says some agents promised to set up female company for him: "They'd put the girls on the phone to talk to me, tell me how they couldn't wait until I got to town."
Brooks insists he never accepted anything from agents and didn't sign with any while still at Baton Rouge. But agents, players and general managers interviewed by SI estimated that from 30% to 70% of the highest draft picks in football and basketball sign early with agents. Most, if not all, of these players are presumed to accept cash and other inducements.
The pursuit of prospective clients gets especially hot and heavy at postseason all-star games, at which agents, in a frenzy of activity, go after blue-chippers, who can then sign without violating NCAA regulations. At the Aloha Classic in Honolulu in April, Scottie Pippen, a 6'7" University of Central Arkansas forward later drafted in the first round by Seattle and traded to the Chicago Bulls, told SI's Bruce Selcraig that agents talked to him in his hotel room, in the lobby, on the beach. Wherever he went, they went. They took him to play golf, they took him to dinner, they drove him around the island. "It seemed like each agent wanted to keep me away from the other agents," says Pippen.
Last January, Lou Brock Jr., the son of baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock, went to the Senior Bowl in Mobile. A USC defensive back later drafted in the second round by the San Diego Chargers, the younger Brock got a quick lesson in agenting. "I see that a lot of these guys [players] are uninformed," he said. "They're sort of scared." Then he added, "And this is the perfect arena for a con man."