published Friday, August 13th, 2010

Saban takes aim at agent issues

By Michael Casagrande

sports@timesfreepress.com

TUSCALOOSA — The whole agent issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

So Nick Saban is taking a little initiative.

The Alabama football coach said he organized a teleconference among a few of his college peers, athletics directors, the NCAA as well as agents, the NFL players’ association and commissioner Roger Goodell.

Still waiting to hear from the NCAA on the eligibility of Marcell Dareus after an investigation into his potential dealings with agents, Saban said everyone should be held accountable when rules are disregarded.

After referring to rouge agents as “pimps” at SEC Media Days in July, he went with “bootleggers” at Thursday’s news conference.

Punishing players who deal with those agents who run afoul of the law should also be considered, Saban said.

“Is it not conduct detrimental if a player does the wrong thing in college and gets suspended for his senior season just so he can play in the NFL? It hurts the NFL,” Saban said. “It hurts the college. It hurts the player. It hurts everybody. So why shouldn’t he get suspended for conduct detrimental just like Roethlisberger or some of the other guys that doesn’t do the right thing?

“Now I like Ben Roethlisberger. I have respect for him and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but he’s being suspended right now for not doing the right thing in a particular circumstance.”

Agent and Alabama alumnus John Phillips was not involved in the teleconference but agrees with Saban’s call for action.

“There has to be punishment across the board,” Phillips said. “Whether it’s from the IRS or making guys lose draft spots, something has to happen.”

Saban said it was up to the other parties involved in the call to identify themselves. The Decatur Daily confirmed Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops took part in the call while the AP reported Florida’s Urban Meyer also participated.

Messages left for the NFLPA were not returned by Thursday night.

For Saban, the glaring problem surrounds rising stars in the junior class. Both recent Tide problems involving agents — Dareus this summer and Andre Smith before the 2009 Sugar Bowl — dealt with juniors who aren’t allowed contact with agents by rule. Seniors are allowed to meet with agents, but juniors can’t have any contact until after the final regular season game or conference championship.

The competition to land one of these players likely to enter the draft early, however, typically extends beyond the legal limits. The Dareus investigation conducted by the school and the NCAA probed a summer trip taken by Dareus to a Miami party hosted by an agent. Players from three other SEC schools — Florida, Georgia and South Carolina — are under similar investigations.

“Where you have prohibition, you have bootleggers. It’s always been that way,” Saban said. “All of our problems have always been with our juniors here, guys that come out early. Why is that? Because nobody is allowed to talk to them. Our seniors, we have times of the year when we bring their families in, we have agent education programs, we bring agents in this building and they have professional meetings with those guys at certain times of the year.

“All we want is the opportunity so that it doesn’t have to happen on the street corner, that there aren’t any of these decisions being made on the street corner.”

Saban also clarified reports that he’d banned NFL scout from attending Alabama practices. It’s true they’re not being admitted to practices right now, but it’s not a result of any lingering issues with the agents’ scandal.

“I don’t think it’s fair to our players for people to come in here and evaluate our players when it’s 110 degrees outside and we’re going through two-a-days,” Saban said. “So, I don’t really want the guys here when we’re going through two-a-days. It’s especially hot this year, and what I told people is we’ll put out a schedule some time after Aug. 25th. So we didn’t close this to the NFL for any particular reason.”

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