HOOVER, Ala. – Nick Saban didn’t pull punches Wednesday when discussing the improper contact with athletes by unscrupulous agents, comparing their behavior to that of a “pimp.”
The Alabama coach was upset about a rash of recent agent-related incidents that have resulted in NCAA investigations at several Southeastern Conference schools.
“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents,” Saban said in a rant at the SEC media days. “The agents that do this, and 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,” he added. “How would you feel if they did it to your child?”
Agents, not national titles, was the primary topic on Day 1 at the Wynfrey Hotel. Three SEC teams—Florida, Alabama and South Carolina—are investigating allegations involving improper contact with an agent. Saban and SEC commissioner Mike Slive both emphatically said it was time for a change to NCAA rules governing agents.
Saban confirmed that Alabama is looking into a trip that defensive end Marcell Dareus took to an agent’s party at Miami’s South Beach. South Carolina is looking into claims from the same South Beach party with tight end Weslye Saunders.
Florida and the NCAA are reportedly investigating whether offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey, now an NFL rookie, received $100,000 from a sports agent’s representative between the SEC championship game and the Sugar Bowl.
Pouncey denied the allegation.
“I did not accept $100,000. It is an absolutely ridiculous claim,” he said in a statement through his attorney. “I have completely cooperated with the investigation and answered any and all questions put to me.”
Saban said he wants the NFL Players Association to get involved and suspend agents whose dealings help cost players eligibility, sending a message through their bank accounts.
“That’s the only way we’re going to stop this happening, because it’s ridiculous and it’s entrapment for young people at a very difficult time in their life,” the former Miami Dolphins coach said. “It’s very difficult for the NCAA to control it, and it’s very unfair to college football.”
“I think we should look into doing something about that,” he added.
Florida coach Urban Meyer said it’s impossible for a coach to keep agents or their “runners” off campus and said they need to be “severely punished” by either state laws or the NFL for wrongdoing.
“It’s epidemic right now,” he said. “It’s always been there, but I think we’ve reached a point where the magnitude of college football is really overwhelming. We’ve really got to keep an eye on that.”
Slive said he wanted the NCAA to change its philosophy for dealing with agents from one based on rules enforcement to a policy that is more oriented toward educating student-athletes.
He said the current NCAA rules “may be as much a part of the problem as they are the solution.”
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Rachel Newman-Baker, the NCAA’s director of agent, gambling and amateurism, said the governing body is reviewing its policies, but she pointed out that schools can “change or amend the agent rules through the normal legislative process.”
The statement said, “NCAA rules allow conversations and information gathering between agents and student-athletes, but agreements and receiving extra benefits are not permitted. The NCAA Division I Amateurism Cabinet, a group of individuals from across the membership with representation by 21 conferences, is currently reviewing how the NCAA can continue to help student-athletes gather information about pursuing a career in professional athletics.”
Improper contact with agents is hardly just an SEC issue, and it appears the rest of college football is paying attention.
At Miami, players said Wednesday they’re reminded “constantly” about the rules prohibiting contact with agents. And the investigations that have come out in recent days led to a reiteration of those rules, Hurricanes wide receiver LaRon Byrd said.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Byrd said. “You look at things like that, and I feel like those guys are being selfish, not looking out for the team. That’s something we always instill. It’s all about teamwork here. I would not put my teammates in danger, in jeopardy of losing games or damaging this program because I want to be greedy and take gifts or take things.”
Alabama is among SEC schools that use former NFL executive Joe Mendes to counsel players and families about dealing with agents. Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram said Tide players are educated about dealing with agents or their representatives.
“We have a great program in our organization that teaches us how to deal with situations like that,” said Ingram, a junior. “Everybody is educated on how to deal with situations and how to approach those situations.”
“My focus is on this team and this football season,” he added. “Anything else is irrelevant.”
Tide junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower said he has not personally been contacted by agents.
“We try to keep away from things like that and not bring it into the team,” Hightower said.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Coral Gables, Fla., and AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.