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Agents pester nation's best during Bowl Week

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  • Agents pester nation's best during Bowl Week

    Dec. 27, 2004
    By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    Adrian Peterson was not alone for a second earlier this month in Orlando. That was understandable because of his next-big-thing status during a visit to Disney World for a college football awards show.

    Pesky agents may try to lure junior QB Alex Smith into signing with them. (Getty Images)
    But popularity had a lot less to do with posing for pictures with Mickey than a perceived threat to his eligibility. Coach Bob Stoops essentially assigned an Oklahoma official to shadow the talented freshman during every waking moment.

    The threat: rogue agents.

    An old problem but no less an insidious one as USC and Oklahoma land in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday getting ready for the Orange Bowl.

    "As a guy that's gotten more attention in the last year, you kind of know where to spot them, what to look for," said Michigan senior receiver Braylon Edwards, who was in Orlando with Peterson. "You ignore it. I'm not trying to worry about that until the season is over. That's how most (agents) operate."

    True, the majority of sports agents are upstanding businessmen trying to lure clients ethically and honestly. But the fact that approximately 28 states have laws regulating agents keeps alive the perception of the profession as something similar to slick used-car salesmen.

    Stoops' fears were valid. During a private reception for players at a Disney World restaurant, two agents (or their runners) were recognized and kicked out. One night later, following the awards show, powerful IMG agent Tom Condon was seen at a hotel bar with a man who was identified as the father of an Oklahoma player.

    On the surface, there was nothing illegal or improper going on. The player was a senior All-American with one game of eligibility left. But even that game could have been jeopardized.

    "If Tom Condon bought (the player's) dad a beer, that would be an NCAA violation," said Bill Saum, director of agent, gambling and amateurism issues for the NCAA.

    It's that easy, and destructive, even if you assume most agents adhere to, and know, NCAA rules. That might be assuming a lot.

    "You're the third person to say that about Orlando," Florida State compliance officer Brian Battle told The school routinely sends awards candidates to the show each year.

    "If that's the case ... eventually what happens the kids don't want to go," Battle said. "They don't want to be bothered. Parents don't want to be bothered."

    A few coaches have quietly wondered why the NCAA doesn't send a representative to Orlando. After the show signed off, there was literally a receiving line of high-profile agents and their assistants waiting stage right for players as they left a hall where the show was televised.

    "We've considered it," Saum said. "It's unsettling, it's frustrating."


    The problem, Saum added, is that the NCAA would have no real power either at the awards show or at bowl sites. The NCAA has little control over the BCS and other bowl games. Unless an enforcement rep saw a violation in Orlando, there is little the association could do except be there as some kind of show of force.

    "We could send someone but, quite frankly, it would just be monitoring in hopes to dissuade the agent from doing something," Saum said, "except it's increased and more brazen."

    It's an uneasy relationship between the NCAA, coaches and players. Players want the big money but must walk a fine line of waiting until after their junior year to turn pro. One slip can bring down a program or a player and send an agent to jail.

    Some programs conduct "agent days" in order to allow players to get familiar with the process -- on the college's turf.

    Part of that is what the NCAA calls an "authorized institutional sports counseling panel" that assists players. It can advise a player on a future pro career. Prospects like USC's Matt Leinart and Utah's Alex Smith are waiting on evaluations of their draft position before deciding whether to turn pro as juniors.

    The panel can help in lining up tryouts and securing loans for disability insurance. Most important, it can assist in agent interviews and providing agent references.

    But the agent influence is so broad is sometimes effects both player and coach movement. Jimmy Sexton is/was involved in two of the biggest coaching searches this year. He is the agent for both new Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban and the man who might replace him, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville. He also represents South Carolina's Steve Spurrier.

    Saum's position was created by former NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey in the 1990s, in part because of that increasing agent influence.

    "The problem has grown because salaries have grown," Saum said. "The agents I talk with feel pressure to contact these kids throughout the season. ... Agents are involved in a business. They don't self-regulate as far as waiting until the season is complete."

    For a reporter making his second trip to the annual Orlando shindig, the change was dramatic. A few years ago, things were more informal, laid back. Now the word has gotten out. The best players in the country are essentially in one place for three days.

    Great for media looking for access before the Heisman announcement and bowl games -- which is a feeding frenzy for agents fishing for clients. You can literally spot agents and their runners in hotel lobbies, speaking on cell phones, scouting out clients. Always ready to stick out a hand to a kid for a quick introduction.

    There is nothing technically wrong with that but it drives coaches crazy. In this world where marketing firms, shoe companies and agents are looking for the next Lebron or T.O. it is, at the least, disconcerting.

    Look no further than the cases of Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams this year. Both arguably got terrible advice from agents. Clarett decided to challenge the NFL's draft regulations after being suspended at Ohio State. The process cost him two years of eligibility and harmed his draft status.

    "A lot of things Maurice Clarett did I don't fault," said Edwards, expected to be a top 10 pick in April's draft. "But another part of that is being young and getting bad advice as well as being in a situation where you are the guy. I have a father, stepfather, a mother, and a stepmother. I'm grounded. I have people in my ear constantly. It helps me out a lot."

    Clarett subsequently made allegations of extra benefits given to him and academic fraud at Ohio State. Had the "Hundred Dollar Handshake" returned to prominence? In other words, boosters handing out money and perks? Battle said at the time that agents still remain the No. 1 problem.

    "When we started going to national championship games, it was crazy," Battle said. "They (agents) were like flies. They just wouldn't go away. We had to start putting something place."

    Florida State employs private security at the team hotel at bowl games. Players' IDs are checked before they can re-enter a room at night. Phones are shut off to outside calls. Because of this year's proximity to the Gator Bowl, several players drove from Tallahassee. Their car keys were turned in once they got to Jacksonville.

    "(Florida State) takes it very seriously," Saum said. "We don't have any control over BCS games. If we did we'd be very active. The coaches don't want the agents around but the agents are in the hotel. ... It's a daily challenge."

    Williams declared for the draft during the brief window that opened last spring when Clarett's legal challenge was successful. Williams' ultimate mistake was hiring an agent and taking money from him.

    When the NFL eventually won on appeal, Williams' case for NCAA reinstatement was hurt by his overt dealings with an agent.

    "He took some very bad advice in declaring and signing with an agent," sports law expert Gary Roberts said at the time.

    Bad advice that might be waiting around a resort hotel lobby this week. All you have to do is just look behind the nearest potted palm for a set of sunglasses and a cell phone.