HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips was already up against it during his first Southeastern Conference Football Media Days, having to speak on the same afternoon as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, perhaps the two biggest names in college coaching.
But even Saban, Meyer and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram ended up being upstaged by the ongoing agent scandal that has rocked SEC schools this week.
South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders and Alabama defensive end Marcel Dareus are being investigated by the NCAA amid allegations that they attended an agent's party in Miami earlier this summer. The NCAA is also looking into whether ex-Florida offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey took $100,000 from an agent before last year's Sugar Bowl, an allegation that Pouncey denied Wednesday. And word broke late in the day that Georgia received a call requesting permission to send investigators on campus to conduct an inquiry.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said NCAA rules relating to agents need to be re-examined and that an NCAA committee has been established to look at the issue and to perhaps make it easier for student-athletes to transition from college to the pros.
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"Dealing with improper agent conduct has been a challenge for a long time, but not only for intercollegiate athletics, but also the many good agents who try to follow the rules," Slive said. "In calling for this strategy, our intent is not to eliminate NCAA oversight of agent issues, and not to excuse improper student-athlete behavior, but rather to change the NCAA's philosophical basis for these rules from enforcement to an assistance-based model."
The consensus among most is there's only so much that coaching staffs and universities can do. Slive and Meyer both said it's impossible for the institutions to know everything that might go on between a player and an agent.
"At Florida, we have security for one reason, and it's not so much for the fans, it's for people we don't want around our players," Meyer said. "I heard a comment about, keep the agents off campus. Arguably, one of the most ridiculous statements I've ever heard because they are off campus. They're not on our campus. If they are, they're hiding behind bushes."
Saban said the problem could be solved if agents just followed guidelines. But he stressed that college football would need help from the NFL Players Association to monitor agents, and he even suggested that college coaches take a stand and limit contact between their programs and NFL scouts if the league isn't willing to cooperate. He suggested that the NFLPA suspend agents for one year who break the rules in dealing with college players.
"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, at one point comparing unscrupulous agents to "pimps."
"And it's very difficult for the institutions and NCAA to control it, and it's very unfair to college football. ... We treat the NFL as well as anybody in the United States when they come to the University of Alabama. If something doesn't go on from their end of it to control what they're doing to affect our players, then I'm not sure that that same hospitality will be welcomed in the future."
UK's Phillips said the university does its due diligence as far as informing players of the rights and wrongs in dealing with agents.
"We try to educate our players, and we also try to get our young players to police it, too, because they're the ones who'll be hurt. If something were to happen, they're the ones who won't be going to bowl games and go on TV," he said.
Kentucky senior running back Derrick Locke said it simply comes down to players making the proper decisions.
"You just don't want to be selfish and put your program at risk," he said. "And everybody at Kentucky has been killing us with what not to do. We just don't want that negativity. If you're good enough to go to the NFL, it's going to be there. You might as well wait. If you come to campus all of a sudden driving a (Mercedes) Benz, everybody's going to be like, 'OK, how did he get it?' "
"I'm not going to say I wouldn't think about it, but I wouldn't want to put my program at risk. You don't want to have any wins taken away. You work too hard for them."