NCAA enforcers spearheading AgentGate (cont.)
Rand Getlin, whose company, Synrgy Sports, provides agent-education assistance for college athletic departments, believes that no real change will come unless state and federal authorities begin prosecuting unethical agents. (An Associated Press review found that more than half of the 42 states with sports agent laws have yet to revoke or suspend a single license, though North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall recently launched an investigation.)
"If you talk to any agent, they know how dirty [the business] is," Getlin said. "But the AGA is one group. It's a noble pursuit, but without the help of federal governments and state governments, and the subpoena power they hold, to what extent are they really going to root it out? No matter how hard they work -- 20-hour days, sleep under their desk -- there's no possibility they could stay on all this stuff."
Newman-Baker said the group is starting to find parties more receptive to offering assistance. On Aug. 16, the group participated in a teleconference with representatives from the NFL, NFL Players Association, American Football Coaches Association and individual agents to "identify points of collaboration and potential solutions." Another call is scheduled for later this month. Alabama coach Saban had earlier organized a series of related calls involving his fellow coaches (among them, Florida's Urban Meyer and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops) and NCAA and NFL officials.
"It's a tough deal, because you first have to find out about something, and then you have to prove it, which isn't always the easiest thing to do with the limited resources the NCAA has," said AFCA executive director and former Baylor coach Grant Taeff. "They get a lot of criticism, but I've watched them over the years, and they consistently do a very good job."
Meanwhile, the Division I Amateurism Cabinet began discussing agent oversight at its June meeting. Some have called for a complete overhaul of prevailing NCAA agent rules, perhaps even allowing for athletes to seek counsel from agents while still in college. But that wouldn't necessarily preclude players from taking handouts.
"The issue of how to get proper information in front of the student-athletes is one that is being discussed by a lot of people in the national office and the membership now," said David Price, the NCAA's vice president of enforcement. "There are various suggestions that are being considered. But don't confuse it with the issue of them providing benefits. There are some issues you have to deal with from a practical standpoint when you open up complete access to agents."
The problem, said the staff members, is that much of the illicit activity being brought to their attention takes place long before a player actually needs an agent -- and doesn't necessarily involve actual agents. For example, while Chris Hawkins, whose purchase of Georgia wide receiver Green's game-worn jersey for $1,000 resulted in the player's suspension, is not a registered agent, he befriended several current UNC players in an apparent attempt to "shop" them to potential agents, according to an ESPN.com report.
"What we're seeing is these financial advisors, marketing reps -- people that don't have any governing body -- are the ones going in before the [NFL's] 'junior rule' takes effect," Wilson said. "They're the ones making initial points of contact."
AGA staffer Miller identified the same problem: "You also see the third parties that aren't attached to a certain agent or financial advisor that latch on to these kids in high school. They take care of them, then once they're in college, they stay latched on to them and they start reaching out on their behalf to try to look for agents and financial advisors. You start to see the same people within certain cities."
Because of the nature of most first contact, the staff spends an inordinate amount of time processing minor cases involving secondary violations such as an agent's paying for a player's meal.
"One of the easiest ways to make that initial contact is to add [the player] as a friend on Facebook, initiate a chat, introduce themselves," Wilson said. "They'll say, 'Oh, by the way, I'm going to be on your campus in a couple of weeks. You want to meet up for dinner and we'll talk about your draft projections?' ... We have these cases every year that involve meals at a restaurant."
There is an obvious source of help for the AGA's staffers: adding more colleagues.
"How many millions of dollars does the NCAA oversee, and they're supposed to be the gatekeepers for all of amateurism?" Getlin said. "Four people?"
Price's enforcement division recently gained three staffers to focus on basketball issues, raising its total number of investigators to 23, but despite the current spotlight on agent issues, there are no plans to expand the AGA.
Until that changes, Newman-Baker, Cretors, Wilson and Miller will keep racking up frequent flier miles and hotel points in the hopes of nailing another case.
"We're not out looking to ruin kids' careers and lives," Cretors said. "There are some cases where you genuinely feel bad for a kid who might have been taken advantage of. But then you look at the other 300,000 student-athletes who are doing it right, who weren't getting the same benefits. It may sound Pollyannaish, but ..."
But they believe in it.