The public admonishment of sports agents and their role in college athletics hasn't really slowed since it became known last month that the NCAA is investigating several possible impermissible relationships between agents and student-athletes. Alabama football coach Nick Saban curiously compared agents to pimps, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops recommended suspending agents who knowingly break rules, and, just this week, Florida football coach Urban Meyer closed practices because he's "concerned about the stuff where you get NCAA violations, and scumbags that are involved that shouldn't be involved."
By scumbags, I'm assuming Meyer meant agents.
Or at least runners working on behalf of agents.
|Tim Floyd and most coaches well know the danger posed by agents. (Getty Images)|
The reason is simple: Basketball coaches need agents.
That's the dirty truth about NCAA hoops, the main difference between college basketball and college football. Football coaches gain very little, and perhaps nothing, from agents hovering around their programs because agents don't typically deliver football prospects to colleges given that agents don't normally get involved with football prospects until after football prospects already are in college. Basketball is the exact opposite. The fact that it's relatively simple to identify future NBA players at an early age combined with the fact that those players can enter the NBA draft after only one year of college has created a culture where agents fund AAU programs, develop relationships with teenagers, and seize control of many elite prospects well before college coaches even get seriously involved.
I don't want to suggest it's universal, but what I can tell you is that it's impossible to recruit certain prospects without going through "their guy," and in many cases "their guy" is either a runner for an agent or someone who long ago cut a deal with a runner. In that scenario, the agent has control. So if a coach wants to recruit the compromised prospect, he'd better have a good relationship with the agent. Or, at the very least, a working relationship.
Take the Anthony Davis saga, for instance.
I have no idea whether Anthony Davis Sr., actually "negotiated a deal that promised $200,000 from someone who wanted [his son] to commit to Kentucky" like the Chicago Sun-Times alleged last week. There is no known evidence to back the claim, and the Sun-Times hasn't produced any named sources or proof, which is why, even if the allegation is true, most agree the reporting was pretty flimsy.
That said, I'll say this: If the allegation is true -- if Davis Sr., did in fact secure a six-figure deal with someone who wants his son to commit to UK -- I'd bet everything I own that the "someone" is an agent or somebody working on behalf of an agent rather than a Kentucky coach or booster. The idea that John Calipari would be shoveling massive amounts of cash to a family is silly, and anybody who thinks that's the way this stuff works is ignorant to the process. A more likely scenario -- and I'm not implying this happened in the Davis case; I'm just explaining how something like this might happen -- would have an agent taking care of a family and seizing control of the recruitment, then cutting a deal with a school's staff to send the player to the school in exchange for help when it comes time for any other future pros on that school's roster to formally select representation.
Think of it as a big circle.
The agent takes control of the high school prospect, then sends the prospect to a college coach who repays the agent, not with cash, but by helping him sign players who will later exit the program, at which point the agent sends another prospect to the college coach, and on and on it goes. It's a never-ending game of "I'll send you one if you send me one," the perfect exercise for the coach with a conscience in that it allows him to convince himself that he "didn't pay anybody" all while directly benefitting from an improper relationship between a prospect and agent.
Still, even the delusional coaches know they benefit.
So you're not going to hear many high-profile basketball coaches -- i.e., basketball coaches who consistently recruit top 20 talents -- come out and call agents "pimps" or "scumbags." Nick Saban and Urban Meyer used those words because agents don't aid their football programs, they only hurt them, but that's not the case in basketball. Sure, agents can cause problems for basketball programs, too, especially if impermissible relationships are exposed; just ask Tim Floyd.
But for every NCAA investigation into a basketball program because of a prospect's involvement with an agent, there's almost certainly a top 10 program actually benefitting from a prospect's involvement with an agent, which is why coaches often cover their ears, close their eyes, cross their fingers and deal with them, because in this sport, sometimes, the pimps and scumbags hold the keys to a nationally ranked recruiting class.