Saban: Coaches, ADs had call with NFL on agents

Published 10:49 pm Thursday, August 12, 2010

TUSCALOOSA (AP) — A group of prominent college football coaches joined in a conference call with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NCAA and others to address problems with unscrupulous agents that have led to investigations at several schools this summer.

Alabama’s Nick Saban, a former Miami Dolphins head coach, said Thursday that he helped organize the call with coaches he “had a tremendous amount of respect for,” the NFL Players Association and a handful of athletic directors and agents.

Florida coach Urban Meyer, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel, Mack Brown of Texas and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops also participated, the schools confirmed.

“We’re all trying to put our heads together to figure out what we can do to level the playing field so that everybody that’s in the agent community — which some of them are very professional — have the same opportunity to recruit players and that the bootleggers out there are guys that get punished and penalized,” Saban said. “And that the players that deal with them are going to have some of the same consequences.”

It’s an issue that has dominated college football headlines in recent months, everywhere from Southern California — recently placed on probation — to schools around the South.

The NCAA has been investigating alleged improper agent contact involving players at Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

“Where you have prohibition, you have bootleggers,” Saban said. “It’s always been that way.”

He said he has temporarily blocked access to Alabama’s practices for NFL scouts — a possibility he hinted at earlier this summer because of the agent issue. Saban said access would be reopened sometime after Aug. 25.

He said the decision wasn’t related to agents, but that he didn’t think it was fair for his players to be evaluated during two-a-day practices in triple-digit temperatures.

Saban has been one of the most outspoken advocates of finding ways to ensure that rule-breaking agents whose actions lead to punishment of players face penalties as well, including suspension of their license for a year or two.

Saban also suggested Thursday that players who have improper dealings with agents could have the consequences carry into their NFL careers.

“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?” Saban said. “It hurts the NFL, it hurts the player, it hurts the college, it hurts everybody.”

“We feel very good about our education program, but we also want to see if there is some way within the rules that we can make it easier to manage agents as they relate to college football,” Brown said in a statement.

The call left Meyer optimistic. He said late last week that he and others had “a great discussion” and “were trying to make some changes.” He said then he couldn’t go into details.

“The good thing is the other side of it wants to help,” he said at the time. “And when I say that, I mean they really want to help. So there’s going to be some positive things come out of this. I think real positive.”

Gators defensive tackle Terron Sanders said the coaches have only addressed the agent issue once.

“Everybody who’s here about business knows to stay away from them,” Sanders said Thursday. “We feel like anybody who wants to go off the road, veer off the path that we’re on, they don’t really want to be here. We addressed it, we left it at that and that’s how it’s going to be.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that Goodell was on the call, but had no further comment. NFLPA President Kevin Mawae also participated.

“We’ve had some good discussion and I’m hopeful that we can resolve the concerns many of us have,” Stoops said in a text message. “It’s premature to say much more. The conversation has begun and we’ll see where it goes from here.”

Ohio State football spokeswoman Shelly Poe said Tressel “told the staff it was a good opening discussion on the subject with the commissioner and the head of the NFLPA.”

NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis said the main purpose of the call was to discuss ways to protect and educate athletes who are being pursued by agents.

“If we find that an agent has violated any rules and regulations that are in place then we will definitely enforce discipline upon those agents,” Francis said. “What that is, I don’t know. Decertification, suspension, fine, any of the above. It’s important to us to protect student-athletes becoming NFL players or who wish to become NFL players, and it’s important to protect players that are currently in the NFL.”

He noted that enforcement requires schools to have hard evidence pointing toward a specific agent.

“That call is one of many that will take place during the course of the year to try to better educate and inform student-athletes,” Francis said.

Saban emphasized the responsibility on the players to sidestep agents who offer improper inducements or contact.

“You would think that the player would know that if a professional person who is an agent is willing to break the rules to represent him, why does he think that the guy won’t break the rules if he isn’t representing him?” Saban said. “That’s the part that’s hard for me to fathom. As soon as a guy broke a rule, I would leave and say, ‘That guy’s not representing me. I don’t want anything to do with him. I’m not even going to call him back.’

“We need to control that, educate that and if the system fails, there has to be someone responsible for that as well.”