Dana O'Neil of CNN has this article a couple of days ago that jumps right out and demands consideration. Despite the investigation of possible player/agent relationships at North Carolina and Alabama, the NCAA is actively mulling legislation changing their rules and allowing college players to have agents.
You read that right, no, I'm not crazy and yes, I can read. Take it away, Dana:
In its June report the Amateurism Cabinet, responsible for all pre- and post-enrollment eligibility issues, quietly dropped this bomb:
"Agent/Advisor Discussion: The cabinet began initial discussions regarding current agent and advisor legislations. The staff provided the group background information related to current issues and trends involving prospective and current student-athletes' use of agents and advisors."
Translation courtesy of the NCAA Speak to English dictionary: The NCAA is considering ways to perhaps allow its athletes to have agents.
Holy Jerry McGuire, Batman!
Some coaches, of course, are incensed. They claim that agents are the root of all evil. O'Neil quotes Jim Boeheim:
"It's about as bad an idea that I can think of off the top of my head," Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim said. "It's putting the wolves in the sheep's den."
It would seem so at first blush. Many people, including your humble correspondent, have railed against the depredations of kids at the hands of agents, and one need look no further than John Wall's early season suspension this year for the reason why. When you have a kid out there who will likely to be a future money train, he is going to attract agents like honey attracts ants.
So is the NCAA on to a good idea, or a bad one? Some would say that it depends mostly on implementation. If the objective of the NCAA is to allow student athletes to be involved with agents in order to bring the relationship into the sunlight, it could be helpful in avoiding the kind of back-street deals that currently bedevil college athletics. But how much of a relationship would be allowed, and what sort of arrangements permissible?
Mike Krzyzewski sees this idea as a slippery slope:
"I think the NCAA has to be very careful going down this road," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Because you know if the NCAA says agents can be involved with an athlete at this point, they'll get involved even earlier. If you open that door even a little …"
I hate to agree with Coach K, but I think he gets this exactly right. O'Neil goes on to quote statistics that indicate there are approximately two registered agents for every college student athlete. That sounds like a supply and demand problem right there, but when you consider the tiny percentage of student athletes that are actually likely to produce a return on their representation, it sounds more like a school of hungry Piranha waiting to strip the flesh from every star athlete they can find. Making it okay for athletes to do business with these people seems like a bad idea.
Of all the arguments presented, this one sounds the most like reality:
Here's the truth: College athletes aren't getting in trouble for getting advice from agents; they're getting in trouble for getting cash from agents.
This is the one fact that the NCAA should not lose sight of. The example of John Wall being forced to repay travel expenses because he AAU coach happened to be a registered agent is an example of how the current setup can look silly and hyper-technical, but the Reggie Bush affair stands at the other end of the spectrum and shows how far things can go in this dark sort of underworld.
Ties to agents are clearly a huge concern in college sports, and the fact that almost any sort of unsavory character can become a sports agent just exacerbates the problem. Agents whispering, among other sweet nothings, that colleges and the NCAA are "using their kid to make millions" and that they "deserve to be paid something for their son's labors" to parents is a beguiling, albeit fallacious and unethical argument that is hard, particularly for the economically disadvantaged, to ignore.
The recurring demands of some in the sports media to allow players to be paid for playing in college is just another way down the slippery slope -- the argument will then quickly metastasize, just as it has in the NBA, about how much is enough. Most proposals I have seen would pay all college athletes an equal amount of money. The agent's argument then becomes even more compelling: "Your son is a star! He should get more than those other guys."
The fact that the NCAA is even considering changing their rules to allow some form of legal agent representation just points up the reality of how pervasive and difficult to control this problem is. What is unsaid but implied is that 90% of the problem exists within 10% of the player population, or possibly even less. Most kids who come to play college sports at NCAA institutions never have to worry about an agent, because they are never going to make any money at their sport of choice.
It is at the highest level that agents are a problem. At Kentucky, the way Calipari recruits, they are going to be a problem every single day that Coach Cal is here. That fact has both positive and negative implications, but even if the NCAA does change their rules they are not going to allow unrestricted capitalism to jump wholesale into college sports.
So stay tuned, sports fans. The day may be coming when agents will be a part of the life of athletes, nearly cradle to grave.