National Columnist

NCAA cures its apathy when it comes to slimy agents


Hate Mail: It's anatomically correct

Even before the recent investigations of Florida, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina, the NCAA cared about sports agents sullying its pristine fields of amateur glory. Mostly. Well, sort of.

Agents paying players isn't a recent phenomenon. Remember Florida in the '90s? (Getty Images)  
Agents paying players isn't a recent phenomenon. Remember Florida in the '90s? (Getty Images)  
Oh, who am I kidding? The NCAA hasn't always cared about this. Not even close. The NCAA cared about agents like the average person cares about a single weed in the front yard: Sees it. Doesn't like it. Wishes it weren't there. But not about to get off the couch and do anything about it.

Meh. That was the NCAA's reaction to agents. Don't believe me? I can point to a flourishing patch of poison ivy to prove it, starting with Tank Black, the former sports agent who pumped so much money into the Florida football program that he was caught by the feds and sentenced to prison for seven years.

Black gave money to Jevon Kearse. He gave money to Mike Peterson. He gave money to Johnny Rutledge. He gave ... well, look. Maybe it would be easier to list the Gators he didn't shower with money. Point is, here's what the NCAA did to Florida:



The Gators won the 1996 national title with the best team Tank Black could buy, and the payments are a matter of public record, and still the NCAA did nothing. Why? The NCAA decided Florida didn't know about the payments, including the Mercedes-Benz S420 that Black got for Rutledge. Don't all college kids drive a Benz?

There's more. I could go on. Fine, I will. Charles Woodson accepted more than $10,000 in cash and gifts from an agent while he was at Michigan, winning the 1997 Heisman Trophy. That's a matter of public record, too. What happened to Michigan? Nothing. The NCAA said it couldn't prove that Michigan knew. Woodson's mother drove a forklift to put food on her family's table back in Fremont, Ohio. As far as Michigan was concerned, forklift drivers must have made serious coin.

As recently as December 2008, Alabama suspended its best player, offensive tackle Andre Smith, for the Sugar Bowl. Why? Because the school learned that Smith's family had been taken care of by an agent. The NCAA didn't even look. Didn't investigate at all. Alabama had handled the matter by suspending Smith for the game. Nothing more to see here, people. Move along.

That was the NCAA. Intentionally impotent. Under the late Myles Brand, who ran the NCAA from 2002 until his death in 2009, the NCAA had other priorities. Specifically, the former president at Indiana cared about basketball and academics, and sought to clean up both. And he did. Brand indirectly shut down scores of seedy prep academies, storefront schools designed to turn academically indifferent stud basketball recruits into college-eligible scholars. And he oversaw the creation of the APR, which measures graduation rates in the real world -- allowing for transfers, early professional departures, etc. -- and ties those rates to scholarship reductions and other NCAA penalties.

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Brand was great as NCAA president, but his office wasn't big enough to do it all. Something had to slip through the cracks, and that something was 6-foot-4, 335-pound Andre Smith. And Tank Black. And Charles Woodson's Heisman. And more. Lots more.

But this is a different NCAA. Prep basketball factories have been eradicated. The APR is in place. So what matters now to the NCAA? Agents matter now. The NCAA is no longer staring balefully at those weeds. The NCAA is pulling those things out, one at a time if need be -- and then scorching the earth that let them grow in the first place.

I give you Southern California football. The Trojans were genuinely stunned by the severity of last month's NCAA sanctions (30 lost scholarships, a two-year postseason ban) after the school was found guilty of not knowing about, or stopping, agents from running amok. Football coach Pete Carroll gave sideline passes to the marketing rep who latched onto Reggie Bush. Basketball coach Tim Floyd was introduced to O.J. Mayo by an NCAA-convicted runner. That's how crazy it was on campus, but the Trojans had been conditioned by previous agent episodes -- Tank Black, Charles Woodson, etc. -- to believe that the NCAA would go lightly. Nope. Not this NCAA.

This NCAA is done being naïve. Ignorance is no longer a defense for schools. Didn't know? Too bad. It's a school's business to know, the NCAA is saying, and it has added muscle to its investigation staff, with eight full-time employees doing nothing but turning over rocks and looking for the agent wriggling underneath. And those slimy creatures are everywhere.

Florida is being investigated after a report that Maurkice Pouncey received $100,000 from an agent late in the 2009 season. North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama are being investigated after allegations that some of their best players were treated by agents to a party in Miami, raising all sorts of questions: How did the players get down there? Who paid travel expenses? What about hotel rooms and food? Any other cash flowing through those players?

USC, the other USC, UNC, Florida, Alabama ... this is not a coincidence. Because this is not your father's NCAA. Those folks are serious about agents, for the first time in, well ...

For the first time ever.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. More importantly, he is 4-0 as an amateur boxer, with three knockouts. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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