published Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Wiedmer: SEC media days likely to become Agent-gate

Late Tuesday morning the Southeastern Conference released its Preseason All-SEC picks. Highlighting the defense was Alabama end Marcell Dareus, who was named the defensive MVP of the BCS national championship victory over Texas.

But late Tuesday afternoon Dareus was making far less positive news. According to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, the school’s compliance staff is investigating if Dareus broke NCAA rules by attending a sports-agent-related party in Florida earlier this summer.

Thus has the start of today’s annual SEC football media days extravaganza morphed from expected questions about Florida coach Urban Meyer’s health, whether the league can and should continue playing without Tim Tebow and whether Bama can repeat as national champ to a more singular topic — Agent-gate.

And you wondered what more than 1,000 credentialed media could find to talk about, write about and video for three days in July with only 12 head coaches and 36 student-athletes around to interview.

Naturally, Saban has quickly shifted from defense to offense on this issue, attacking not only the slimy, sleazy agent trade — who doesn’t? — but also the National Football League, his employer before Bama lured him away from the Miami Dolphins for $4 million a year.

If you believe in some kind of cruel karma — and the few Dolphins fans who were sorry to see Saban go probably do — there certainly is a delightful irony in the fact that the party that could cost Dareus his eligibility took place in South Beach.

But whether you view Saban as Saint Nick or Nick Satan, one can’t help but smirk over his claim to ESPN.com that “I’m about ready for college football to say, ‘Let’s just throw the NFL out. Don’t let them evaluate players. Don’t let them talk to players. Let them do it at the combine.’ If they are not going to help us, why should we help them?”

That’s all well and good except that Saban long has held up his NFL experience as a recruiting tool when luring players to LSU earlier in his career and to Alabama later on.

Beyond that, Saban has long maintained one of the more welcoming relationships with NFL talent scouts when it comes to visiting his practices, another assured recruiting tool. So he’s going to throw all that away because one player took an unacceptable benefit under the NCAA’s mile-high rulebook?

I don’t think so.

But I do believe Saban had a very valid point when he also told ESN.com: “What the NFL Players Association and the NFL need to do is if any agent breaks a rule and causes ineligibility for a player, they should suspend his (agent’s) license for a year or two.”

This isn’t about Dareus only among SEC players. South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders also has caught the NCAA’s attention in regard to the Florida party.

Then there’s the awkward case of Gators offensive lineman Mike Pouncey, another preseason All-SEC selection. Pouncey isn’t being investigated by the NCAA. But his twin brother Maurkice — who turned pro after last year’s Sugar Bowl rout of Cincinnati — is under the NCAA’s microscope for possibly taking $100,000 from an agent between last year’s SEC title game and the bowl game.

If the charge sticks, the Gators might have to forfeit the bowl win, which might only add to what made Meyer sick enough to almost retire from coaching last season.

As for Dareus, the typical punishment would be for him to be ineligible until the improper benefits he received were paid back, along with a minimal suspension.

Regardless, as long as college football and men’s basketball are dominated by young men who’ve grown up on the wrong end of the economic scale, the lure of big money for the first time in their lives is going to cause big headaches for the schools who sign them.

Which is why Saban will be far from the last SEC coach this week to lobby for the NFL to punish the agents instead of the players or the schools.

You can say it’s a self-serving argument, and it is. But that doesn’t make it a wrong argument. As we’ve painfully learned with the Gulf oil spill the past few months, to clean up any mess you must begin at its source. And when it comes to this particular college football mess, the source always is a sleazy, slimy agent.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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