HOOVER, Ala. — A fairly light-hearted affair last July, SEC Football Media Days took a much different tone on Day 1.
The culprit: Rogue sports agents.
With investigations at four of the 12 conference schools involving players’ interactions with agents, the group took quite a verbal beating when Nick Saban stepped to the podium. His star defensive end Marcell Dareus is the subject of a probe conducted into his alleged trip to a South Beach party hosted by an agent earlier this summer.
“I hate to say this, but how are they any different than a pimp?” Saban said of agents who initiate improper communications with underclassmen. “I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. I mean none. How would you feel if they did it to your child?”
Simply speaking with an agent isn’t a violation of NCAA rules. Accepting money for transportation and other expenses from one is, however, and that is the subject of the investigation into Dareus in story that broke on ESPN.com Tuesday evening.
Amid the talk of the story that also affects Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, a report posted on The Tuscaloosa News website early Wednesday afternoon stated Dareus had been ruled ineligible due to the investigation. A spokesman from the school said the story that cited unnamed sources was not accurate and that the university’s probe into the situation had just begun.
Georgia associate athletic director Claude Felton confirmed that the NCAA requested permission late Wednesday afternoon to conduct an inquiry on the Bulldogs’ campus. He would not say what the inquiry was about or whether it was related to the South Beach party. “This is all we can say,” Felton said.
Florida and the NCAA are reportedly investigating whether offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey — now an NFL rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers received $100,000 from a sports agent’s representative between the SEC championship game and the Sugar Bowl.
Pouncey denied the allegation.
“I did not accept $100,000, it is an absolutely ridiculous claim,” he said in a statement through his attorney. “I have completely cooperated with the investigation and answered any and all questions put to me.”
Florida coach Urban Meyer said the Gators support Pouncey.
“If something happened, we should be punished severely,” Meyer said. “If it didn’t happen, then it’s nonsense. I heard his denial today and we stand by Maurkice Pouncey.”
Eligibility questions can linger right up to kickoff time of the season opener. A year ago, Alabama linebacker Jerrell Harris’ ineligibility was not announced until the moments leading up to Game 1 against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome because the NCAA had not cleared him following an investigation into receiving improper gifts.
Ultimately, it’s the governing body that will determine Dareus’ status and it can do so at any time. Practice participation would not be affected by the investigation.
Either way, Saban came out swinging against the small percentage of sports agents behind the allegations of wrong doing. While the responsibility for any improper dealings is shared by players, schools and agents, Saban said there needs to be consequences for all parties.
He suggested yanking licenses from agents who threaten the eligibility of student-athletes by providing benefits deemed illegal by the NCAA.
“That’s the only way we’re going to stop what’s happening out there because it’s ridiculous and it’s entrapment of young people at a very difficult time in their life,” Saban said. “And it’s difficult for the institutions and the NCAA to control it and it’s very unfair to college football.”
The issue of unethical agents is nothing new to Alabama and Saban after the controversy the preceded the 2009 Sugar Bowl involving offensive lineman Andre Smith. The Outland Trophy winner was suspended for the loss to Utah after allegedly having improper contact with an agent.
“You know, we probably could have prosecuted the (agent),” Saban said. “But in prosecuting the guy that did wrong, we would have put our institution in jeopardy — possibly — from an NCAA standpoint. We didn’t do it. But the same guy is standing in line trying to give our players money this past year and nothing gets done about it. It’s not a good situation.”
Published reports in early 2009 identified the agent who contacted Smith as Melvin Bratton of DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment, although company representatives later denied he had any involvement. The agent involved in the current investigation has not been publically identified.