Of course, there was the big one at USC where the school is now returning Reggie Bush's Heisman. But more recently the NCAA began investigating players from Florida and Alabama. At Florida, former offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey is being investigated for allegedly receiving $100,000 from an agent. At Alabama, they are looking into defensive end Marcell Dareus for attending an agent-related party.
It might be awhile before we know the full details behind these cases, but what we do know is these aren't unique situations and the NCAA is finally interested in putting a stop to these illegal player-agent relations. They've taken the first step by putting an emphasis on cracking down on it but now they have to follow through with the correct punishments to dissuade this sort of activity.
There are usually three guilty parties in situations like these. There are the players themselves who know better than to take gifts from agents. There are the universities that are suddenly blind to their young athletes who came from impoverished neighborhoods driving BMWs. And then the worst of them all are the agents.
Let's start with the players. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel thinks the solution is to stiffen penalties for players that get caught taking handouts:
"... what player isn't going to take free money when all he's risking is a two-game suspension? I've been writing this for more than a decade: If you want to stop players from taking handouts from agents then expel them from the team and ban them from NCAA competition permanently. Put their NFL futures in jeopardy - and you will quickly get their attention."
He writes that these players are adults and should know better. Well, I'd argue they're not adults but they still know better. They might be 21 years old but if you've ever been around an elite entitled athlete you'll know they can be quite far from an adult level of maturity. But what they can understand is that they're being taken advantage of. They know their school is making millions off of them of which they see none of the profits (don't even start with the argument of a free education). So it's easy for them to rationalize taking these handouts. How many before them have done it and gotten away with it? Why can't they? Can you really fault these players for taking the money? Do you really think their NFL future should be in jeopardy because they took what's eventually coming to them?
At SEC media day Coach Saban said, "Agents that do this, 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. I mean, none. How would you feel if they did it to your child?" How would I feel if I had a kid destined for the pros and he took a lump of money to potentially help out his family (or at worst, let him enjoy his life a little more)? Honestly, not too bad.
And how about the schools that let all this happen? USC's defense was that they knew nothing of the illegal dealings. While that's the fallback excuse for all universities that get caught, I do believe it's probably true in many cases. I'm sure many universities take a cue from the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy but it's still a difficult task to attempt to police every single student athlete. How are they supposed to constantly monitor a player when they go home over breaks or when they go out to a restaurant or club? It's impossible to expect them to be watching their players at all times.
That leaves the agents. They are the heart of the problem and if the NCAA and NFL can stop these guys then the number of infractions will decline tremendously. The problem is it's much easier to catch the player than the savvy agent who often gets others to deliver the illegal gifts. Every year players are suspended for taking cash and gifts but how often does an agent get suspended? The NFL Players Association controls agent certification and they have no real incentive to investigate illegal activity. Those college players aren't in the NFL yet so why divert resources to investigating those claims? Many states have laws regarding sports agents, but it's rare that they're enforced.
So what's the solution? This is the best part - the problem is the solution. The majority of agents either don't commit these illegal acts or don't want to but feel they have to in order to stay competitive. Do you think agents like having the reputation as lowlife scumbags? The agencies should set up a fund where a small percent of their income goes to an independent party whose job it is to police the agents. They should have access to the agencies books to look for economic incongruities and should have the power to be able to revoke agents' licenses and levy fines against the agencies.
If the agencies want to improve their reputations and get in the good graces of the NCAA this would certainly be a step in the right direction.