Seedy agents a problem in college basketball and football

Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III isn't sure how to address recruiting issues.
Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III isn't sure how to address recruiting issues.
Posted: November 11, 2010

FIRST, THERE WAS Reggie Bush and the mess at USC, followed by an assistant coach at North Carolina who lost his job after he was alleged to have steered players to an agent/friend and, finally, former agent Josh Luchs on the cover of Sports Illustrated naming names and payments to college football players.

The agent issue has really overwhelmed the college football season. Who is paying whom and what can be done to stop it?

"It's funny how football is in panic mode," Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey said. "We've been doing this dance for a long time. Basketball coaches have had to negotiate this climate for years. It's been part of our culture for a long time. Maybe now that the football's dragged into it, we can get regulation and some help to police it because it is a very tricky dynamic to negotiate when you're a coach."

This goes way back in college basketball. It is not, however, nearly as prevalent. And not because basketball is anywhere near pure at the highest levels. It is strictly about the numbers.

NFL rosters are five times bigger than NBA rosters so while there are a few dozen basketball players that are potential draft choices in any one year, there are hundreds of college football players.

But this "who is playing who for what deal" is certainly an issue in college basketball. It is not unlike the recruiting dance. The difference is that agents are now playing the role of coaches.

The coaches want the players out of high school. The agents want them out of college.

"I think the world is different than it may have been 10, 15 years ago," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "How that is addressed I don't know. You look at the NCAA manual, how it was written, the world that it was written for. The world that we live in is much different.

"In a perfect world, you want to sit in here and say little Billy goes to high school, little Billy's parents and his high school coach help him make his decisions. That's not always the case. Every other person that is a part of little Billy's life isn't necessarily a bad person or a negative influence.

"More and more often, for a whole plethora of reasons, there are more people involved in these kids' lives at a much earlier age. How we address that, I don't know."

Players can speak with agents now. They just can't take anything from them while they are in college. There is at least some discussion about changing that. That would appear to make some sense for the elite tier of players. Given that is already going on, why keep it in the shadows?

The issues have compounded in recent years because of the NBA rule that does not allow high school players to be eligible for the draft. Where have the biggest problems been lately? With freshmen, such as USC's O.J. Mayo.

If an NBA-ready player like Mayo was just allowed in the league where he belongs out of high school, there would no NCAA/agent issues.

"I don't know that it's as much of a problem in basketball, but it's made me aware even more," Providence coach Keno Davis said when he was asked if he had followed the football problems. "You're always worried about agents that would try to get in touch with young men before they finish their college eligibility. There's more money involved now, there's more to trickle down now."

It always comes down to the money. There is a lot of it out there. Only the top college players are not supposed to touch any of it until they are no longer in college. Which does not happen. And everybody knows it does not happen.

"I tell [the players] you're going to have people reaching out to you," Brey said. "Forward it to me. Talk to the parents. Try to get everybody in the loop, but understand that people are hitting on them. People are getting to families.

"I find it interesting reading about the football guys [coaches]. They're up in arms. I was like, 'Welcome to our world.' We've been doing this for 15 years. If I hear one more football guy say I'm appalled . . . Relax, fella, we can tell you how to negotiate this."

As a coach, Brey hopes agents will call him when they might be interested in one of his players.

"For the most part, the agents are calling you," Brey said. "They don't do that with everybody. And you never trust anybody. But at least communication has been opened a little bit. You can never assume. You've got to talk to them."

The only thing you can assume is that somebody somewhere is trying to get close to the money.

And the solution is . . .

"It's a problem that we can't control," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "It's shoe-related, it's agent-related, it's runner-related. It used to be that we could cure the problem by turning in a school or a coach that's doing something wrong.

"The coaches aren't 90 percent of the time involved in the wrongdoing. It's the agent, it's the runner, it's the families, we don't even know it's going on, but it is going on."

As long as there are potentially lucrative pro contracts for elite college athletes, it will be going on. Agents and/or their representatives want to get close to the players so, when the time comes, they might get chosen to represent players and then will get a small percentage of a big contract that they negotiate. The more players, the more contracts, those small percentages start to add up.

And how do they get close to players? They give them what many of them don't have. Money.

What we have now is sham amateurism. It is all kind of silly. But, until somebody comes up with a better idea or the NCAA decides to share some of its NCAA Tournament windfall with the elite players the public wants to see, nothing will change, other than the amounts and the methods. *

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