Solutions to correct college football’s agent crisis

When reports emerged in the days preceding that 2006 draft that would-be marketing agents had provided USC running back Reggie Bush’s family with rent-free housing, no one could have imagined that the case eventually would threaten to revolutionize the manner in which we think about amateur athletes who earn millions for American universities, with the vast majority of the money never being paid to any of them.

Reggie Bush was awarded the Heisman Trophy on Dec. 10, 2005.
Reggie Bush was awarded the Heisman Trophy on Dec. 10, 2005.

More than four years after the fact, following a dreadfully slow NCAA investigation hampered by the fact the organization has no ability to issue subpoenas for testimony or documents, the NCAA has concluded that Bush did indeed receive money, and the NCAA apparently has decided to embark on a more aggressive effort to smoke out situations in which would-be agents and financial advisers have funneled money or other benefits to players with remaining eligibility.

So what changes should be made going forward? Let’s consider the possibilities from the perspective of the various players in this sordid tale.

The agents

The obvious targets for punishment are the people who attempt to recruit future NFL players by giving them something now that their schools won’t — money. Whether it’s contract agents, marketing agents, financial advisers, or the "runners" who deliver the clients to the professionals, these folks are jeopardizing the ability of the players to continue to hone their skills at the college level, and they’re also potentially undermining the ability of many more current and future players with that same program to make the most out of their talents via the loss of scholarships and/or eligibility for bowl games.

The players

Far too often, tales emerge from major college programs of players and family members who perpetually have their hands out, looking from money for anyone who’s willing to give it up.

Though the fact that the system takes from the players and gives them back pennies in comparison to the contributions they make helps justify at a visceral level the desire for players to get paid by someone/anyone/everyone, the basic fact remains that the players who accept money violate the rules, regardless of the inequity of the system that crafted them.

As to players like Bush, an apparent desire to take whatever anyone will give and an alleged refusal to pay back the folks he opted not to hire as his agents created the problem that led to major sanctions for the Trojans program. And even if taking money can be justified, not hiring the agents and not paying back the money remains wrong, under any plausible view of the situation.

The union

The NFLPA has the ability to suspend or decertify contract agents and financial advisors who break the rules. The union has not yet targeted marketing agents, who ply their craft with little or no oversight or regulation.

The NFLPA needs to broaden its net and devote resources to comprehensive and fair enforcement of the rules. Previously, actions taken by the union against agents has been criticized as inconsistent and/or incomplete. Significant funds must be committed to creating and maintaining an enforcement mechanism that weeds out those who would ignore the rules, and deters everyone else to avoid similar behavior.

The NCAA

Speaking of the need to devote funds to enforcement, the NCAA and its member schools must peel off some of those millions that the players earn to ensure that the rules are followed, and those who break the rules are punished.

But a deeper effort also should be undertaken to counter the basic sense that the players deserve something more than room, board, and tuition. Perhaps the time has come to compensate players, via stipends or other devices aimed at giving them something for their efforts and physical risks that begins to approach the revenue generated by college football programs throughout the country.

Maybe if the players were receiving tangible compensation from the schools, they wouldn’t be so quick to put their hands out.

The NFL

On the surface, the NFL occupies the position of bystander in this process. With no power over players who have yet to leave college and no ability to regulate agents, the league’s only role under the current system would be to encourage the NFLPA to better do its job, and to direct the teams to cooperate with any enforcement efforts.

That said, the NFL should look for more ways to get involved. One possibility would be to suspend players whom the NCAA has determined to have taken money while still eligible. Another possibility would be to work with the union to fund an external mechanism for investigating and disciplining agents. The league also could assist the NCAA in lobbying efforts targeted at passing legislation that would make it easier for the NCAA to investigate cases of abuse, and to punish the responsible parties.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

When reports emerged in the days preceding that 2006 draft that would-be marketing agents had provided USC running back Reggie Bush’s family with rent-free housing, no one could have imagined that the case eventually would threaten to revolutionize the manner in which we think about amateur athletes who earn millions for American universities, with the vast majority of the money never being paid to any of them.

Reggie Bush was awarded the Heisman Trophy on Dec. 10, 2005.
Reggie Bush was awarded the Heisman Trophy on Dec. 10, 2005.

More than four years after the fact, following a dreadfully slow NCAA investigation hampered by the fact the organization has no ability to issue subpoenas for testimony or documents, the NCAA has concluded that Bush did indeed receive money, and the NCAA apparently has decided to embark on a more aggressive effort to smoke out situations in which would-be agents and financial advisers have funneled money or other benefits to players with remaining eligibility.

So what changes should be made going forward? Let’s consider the possibilities from the perspective of the various players in this sordid tale.

The agents

The obvious targets for punishment are the people who attempt to recruit future NFL players by giving them something now that their schools won’t — money. Whether it’s contract agents, marketing agents, financial advisers, or the "runners" who deliver the clients to the professionals, these folks are jeopardizing the ability of the players to continue to hone their skills at the college level, and they’re also potentially undermining the ability of many more current and future players with that same program to make the most out of their talents via the loss of scholarships and/or eligibility for bowl games.

The players

Far too often, tales emerge from major college programs of players and family members who perpetually have their hands out, looking from money for anyone who’s willing to give it up.

Though the fact that the system takes from the players and gives them back pennies in comparison to the contributions they make helps justify at a visceral level the desire for players to get paid by someone/anyone/everyone, the basic fact remains that the players who accept money violate the rules, regardless of the inequity of the system that crafted them.

As to players like Bush, an apparent desire to take whatever anyone will give and an alleged refusal to pay back the folks he opted not to hire as his agents created the problem that led to major sanctions for the Trojans program. And even if taking money can be justified, not hiring the agents and not paying back the money remains wrong, under any plausible view of the situation.

The union

The NFLPA has the ability to suspend or decertify contract agents and financial advisors who break the rules. The union has not yet targeted marketing agents, who ply their craft with little or no oversight or regulation.

The NFLPA needs to broaden its net and devote resources to comprehensive and fair enforcement of the rules. Previously, actions taken by the union against agents has been criticized as inconsistent and/or incomplete. Significant funds must be committed to creating and maintaining an enforcement mechanism that weeds out those who would ignore the rules, and deters everyone else to avoid similar behavior.

The NCAA

Speaking of the need to devote funds to enforcement, the NCAA and its member schools must peel off some of those millions that the players earn to ensure that the rules are followed, and those who break the rules are punished.

But a deeper effort also should be undertaken to counter the basic sense that the players deserve something more than room, board, and tuition. Perhaps the time has come to compensate players, via stipends or other devices aimed at giving them something for their efforts and physical risks that begins to approach the revenue generated by college football programs throughout the country.

Maybe if the players were receiving tangible compensation from the schools, they wouldn’t be so quick to put their hands out.

The NFL

On the surface, the NFL occupies the position of bystander in this process. With no power over players who have yet to leave college and no ability to regulate agents, the league’s only role under the current system would be to encourage the NFLPA to better do its job, and to direct the teams to cooperate with any enforcement efforts.

That said, the NFL should look for more ways to get involved. One possibility would be to suspend players whom the NCAA has determined to have taken money while still eligible. Another possibility would be to work with the union to fund an external mechanism for investigating and disciplining agents. The league also could assist the NCAA in lobbying efforts targeted at passing legislation that would make it easier for the NCAA to investigate cases of abuse, and to punish the responsible parties.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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