Friday, July 23, 2010

(Not-so) Secret Agent Men


Earlier this week, El Hombre had the opportunity to speak to the coach of a prestigious D-I hoops program about various and sundry items, including the current tidal of wave of accusations sweeping the southern football community regarding improper contact (sounds like a Class C sexual assault charge) and payments by agents. Just to show you how much of a biosphere these guys inhabit, he had not heard about the ongoing NC2A investigations and the near-daily revelations of more programs in trouble, despite minute-by-minute updates on the Worldwide Leech’s bottom line that rivaled the drool-soaked dispatches about Dwyane Wade’s Little Brother’s free-agent future.

“LeBron to announce to announce future tonight on ‘Disgrace.’”

“LeBron eats breakfast burrito at Sonic.”

“LeBron pops Prilosec.”

“LeBron takes talents to South Beach”

“NBA greats ridicule LeBron.”

You get the idea. This thing hasn’t exactly been under the radar. Any time you can get Nick Saban to call a group of people “pimps,” it’s big news. So, Said Basketball Coach must be up to his AAU-addled noggin in street agents, crazy uncles and one-and-done-abees, or else he would know about it.

Anyway, earlier this summer, SBC happened to be watching a fine crop of student-athletes playing for the high-character types who operate summer-league teams at something called the “Peach Jam” in Augusta, GA. Next to him was an NC2A executive, whose areas of expertise were “gaming and agents,” which sounds sort of like a course of study at LSU. Anyway, the topic of agents came up, and the NC2A type said that there are actually people inside the Association who believe collegians should be able to have agents.

SBC was dumbfounded, and said something along the lines of “Then, they shouldn’t be employed,” in response, except with a couple of words that rhyme with “truck” and “ducking” sprinkled in. As you might imagine, the thought that players could some day have “representation” is enough to make SBC and his brethren re-think their million-dollar contracts. Okay, maybe they won’t go that far, but there will be a lot more people who look like Jim Boeheim prowling the football and basketball sidelines should that become a reality.

For those of you who don’t spend hours tracking the news and network propaganda that trundles across the bottom of the screen during espn’s programming, here’s a quick recap of what’s going on with all those proud southern football programs. It began late last week with the news that North Carolina had attracted the gumshoes, due to hints and allegations that star defensive tackle Marvin Austin and others may have received cash and prizes – cars, trips, swag – from agents and other unsavories. The NC2A look-see has been characterized as “major,” and if Austin and others are found to have been on the payroll, UNC could find itself in Azkaban. The same goes for South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. That’s just for starters. There will be others, count on it.

(An aside: Good news for Michigan fans: Since your heroes have been so poor lately, there’s no chance agents are heading to Ann Arbor with big money and fast rides, so that’s one investigation U-M will dodge.)

As you might imagine, the CEOs of the programs in question aren’t happy. But instead of railing at the NC2A, they’re taking on the agents. Thus, Saban’s “pimps” comment. Things have gotten so bad that we were actually able to see footage of Saban and UF boss Urban VI Meyer standing – albeit uncomfortably – together at SEC Media Day without one trying to plunge a grappling hook into the other’s back.

College coaches are sure to be united about this problem, which is particularly challenging for them, since it’s impossible to keep track of every creepy crawler that slinks onto campus. Believe it or not, Pete Carroll wasn’t at the Omega Psi Phi and Alpha Phi Alpha throwdowns at USC. Nor was he at the Matt Leinart Hot Tub-a-thon. So, it was hard to know with whom his star players were associating, be it Lloyd Lane, Jerry McGuire, Arliss Michaels or any of their intermediaries.

What’s happening is that football players are starting to get agitated about the three-year hitch they’re required to serve before heading to the NFL. They see their basketball counterparts bolting after six months on campus for the pot-o-gold, and they’re jealous. Worse, the basketball savants only have to go to a semester-and-a-half of classes, quite different from two-plus, not to mention all the summer school work to make up for the bad grades in season. So, when someone offers them the keys to a car or a few (thousand) dollars to drop on some Rocawear or Abercrombie apparel, they figure they’re entitled. And since football teams have 22 starters, instead of five, and there are seven rounds in the NFL draft, versus two in the NBA version, there are more targets for aspiring representatives.

There are two things that can be done about this. One is easy for the NC2A. The other will require more finesse. The first involves changing the NC2A rule that allows players to speak with agents, so long as they don’t receive any benefits (meals, transportation, Bentleys). The NC2A has to prohibit players from talking to agents, period. Once contact is made, the door is open. It won’t be easy to track every player’s conversations and movements, but it would be easier for coaches and other administrators to get rid of any agents or their lieutenants who show up on campus. Why else would a runner be in Lawrence, KS, but to speak with a potential client? Once he’s there, he’s banished. And it’s up to the NC2A to put that person on a list that prohibits him from participating in any official event on campus, be it a Pro Day or any kind of showcase workout. It’s not perfect, but it would clear up some of the gray areas.

If the players are found talking to the agents, they are suspended immediately. People forget that these are adults who are warned regularly about which people to avoid.

The second involves the NFL and NBA, which have to start cracking down on agents who give improper benefits. Saban is right on this one. He says anybody found to have provided an improper benefit should lose his certification with the leagues for two years. That might sound harsh, and it would be difficult to do, since the leagues’ players associations govern agent activity, and they’re unlikely to go after the people who negotiate their contracts. But it would help.

Then there is the Big Acquiescence. Let the players have agents. Open it up to all comers. Stop the madness. And, while
we’re at it, let’s just make college sports entirely separate from the institutions they purport to represent. Some athletic programs have already taken steps in that direction with their runaway budgets, lip service to academics and other practices, but this would just about end the old model completely. Hey, if we’re headed in that direction already. Why not finish the job? Let the players have agents. Recruit cheerleaders from strip clubs. And if coaches don’t win? Public executions.

SBC and his brethren would love that. Just imagine their responses when Agent X marches into their office and says, “Coach, we have to talk about my client’s playing time.”

Get ready for more words that rhyme with cluck.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Folks in Miami are trying to come up with a suitable nickname for Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Here’s a suggestion: “Syrup of Ipecac,” because the mere thought of how it all went down induces vomiting… If Eldrick Woods is going to play this poorly for the next several years, expect golf’s ratings to join those of cycling, bowling and Notre Dame football in the Nielsen outhouse. It isn’t unreasonable to think he’s on the downside of a great, possibly Galea-induced, career. That would be catastrophic for the PGA, which has no other bankable starts (Lefty doesn’t win enough) and can’t be happy when South African word jumbles win at St. Andrew’s…Former Raiders QB/Thanksgiving float JaMarcus Russell has pleaded not guilty to charges of illegal drug possession after being arrested under suspicion of having codeine syrup (aka “Purple Drank”) on his person. Russell might walk on those charges, but he still has to deal with the grand larceny accusation stemming from his theft of millions from the Oakland franchise…A federal judge ruled Wednesday that “competitive cheerleading” is not an official sport and can’t be used by colleges to satisfy gender-equity mandates. When asked about the ruling, Florida State cheer captain Muffy Capstone replied, “As if!”…A report out of Mississippi says that Vikings coach Brad Childress did not discuss a deadline with Cowboy Quarterback for when he needs to be in camp. One witness to the discussion between the two men reported the following exchange: Childress – “Pretty, pretty please with sugar on it.” CQ – “Aw, shucks.” Childress – “I’ll be your best friend. I’ll buy you a pony.” CQ – “I just love playing the game.” The saga continues next month. Pass the Big Pink.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Let’s hope the Phillies are paying GM Ruben Amaro a truckload of cash, because every time ownership vetoes another move that would strengthen the team, Amaro has to stand in front of inquiring minds and spin away. No one outside of the Phillies’ brass can be sure if it was Amaro who concocted the “replenish our farm system” defense for the Cliff Lee deal, but that was a doozy. This week, a cranky Amaro has had to stonewall reporters who are tracking down verification the Phils are trying to deal for Roy Oswalt, Dan Haren or the ghost of Walter Johnson. The Oswalt deal looked done, until he asked for the equivalent of Kryptonite for the Phillies’ owners: cash. Now, with a farm system bereft of prospects and some starters for whom there is nearly zero interest around the league (Raul Ibanez = BP stock), Amaro has to fortify a starting rotation that is sagging, beef up a rotten bullpen and try to bolster a mostly-fetid bench. If he pulls any of it off without proper financial support from the Suits Upstairs, he should get a huge raise. If not, he should get some money, too, because the story he’ll have to invent to explain why the deals didn’t get made and to protect his bosses will make the Brothers Grimm look like hacks.

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AND ANOTHER THING: Some training camps opened today, and that means the start of real NFL football is less than two months away. Make sure you enjoy this season, sports fans, because there is going to be a lockout next year, and it’s going to be a long one. Owners want a smaller percentage of revenues devoted to salaries, a longer season, expanded drug testing and a rookie wage scale. Players want money, money and more money. Unlike the last labor negotiations, during which then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue was able to smoke the peace pipe with NFLPA head Gene Upshaw, even though some of the to-the-mattresses owners wanted a hard line, this won’t go smoothly. Roger Goodell is a wartime consigliere to capos like False Face, Dan Snyder and Bob Kraft, and he isn’t looking to compromise. As the pads pop and the concussions start, cherish every minute, because the future is filled with dark clouds.