By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
HOOVER, Ala. (AP)—Nick Saban didn’t pull punches Wednesday when discussing the improper contact with athletes by unscrupulous agents, comparing their behavior to that of a “pimp.”
The Alabama coach was upset about the rash of recent agent-related incidents that have resulted in NCAA investigations at several Southeastern Conference schools.
“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents,” Saban said in a rant at the SEC media days. “The agents that do this—and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?
“I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. How would you feel if they did it to your child?”
Agents, not national titles, was the primary topic on Day 1 at the Wynfrey Hotel. Three SEC teams—Florida, Alabama and South Carolina—are investigating allegations involving improper contact with an agent. Saban and SEC commissioner Mike Slive both emphatically said it was time for a change to NCAA rules governing agents.
Saban confirmed that Alabama is looking into a trip defensive end Marcell Dareus took to an agent’s party at Miami’s South Beach. South Carolina is looking into claims from the same South Beach party with tight end Weslye Saunders.
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.”
The player’s twin brother, Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey, said they have both cooperated with investigators.
“I talked to my brother and it’s not true,” Mike Pouncey said. “He pretty much cleared that up in his statement. I feel bad about it because they’re ruining somebody’s name and they really don’t know who my brother and I are. We pride ourselves on having a good, clean name. It’s just hard right now.
“I’m just ready to be done with it.”
Saban said he wants the NFL Players Association to get involved and suspend agents whose dealings help cost players eligibility, sending a message through their bank accounts.
“That’s the only way we’re going to stop this happening, because it’s ridiculous and it’s entrapment for young people at a very difficult time in their life,” the former Miami Dolphins coach said. “It’s very difficult for the NCAA to control it, and it’s very unfair to college football.
“I think we should look into doing something about that.”
Florida coach Urban Meyer said it’s impossible for a coach to keep agents or their “runners” off campus and said they need to be “severely punished” by either state laws or the NFL for wrongdoing.
“It’s epidemic right now,” he said. “It’s always been there, but I think we’ve reached a point where the magnitude of college football is really overwhelming. We’ve really got to keep an eye on that.”
The NFL itself, though, seems unlikely to get involved. Told of Meyer’s comments, league spokesman Greg Aiello noted in an e-mail exchange with The Associated Press: “The agents are regulated by the union.”
Asked whether the NFL might prod the NFLPA on the matter, Aiello wrote: “The union’s comments make clear that no encouragement is necessary.”
NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah wrote in an e-mail to the AP: “We take violations of NFLPA rules by agents seriously and investigate them vigilantly. This situation is no different.”
Atallah’s boss, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, voiced an even stronger stance in an appearance on ESPN radio earlier Wednesday—before Saban’s remarks.
“I think that any agent or contract adviser who does that, and preys upon kids like that in college, is something that we’re going to deal with extremely aggressively,” Smith said.
“Frankly, God help those agents if they’re found to be in violation, because I’ve given our players … the green light to take the most aggressive steps that they want to take.
“If those steps include me or someone else in our office making a criminal referral under certain circumstances, that’s what we’ll do.”
Slive said he wanted the NCAA to change its philosophy for dealing with agents from one based on rules enforcement to a policy that is more oriented toward educating student-athletes.
He said the current NCAA rules “may be as much part of the problem as they are the solution.”
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Rachel Newman-Baker, the NCAA’s director of agent, gambling and amateurism, said the governing body is reviewing its policies, but pointed out that schools can “change or amend the agent rules through the normal legislative process.”
The statement said, “NCAA rules allow conversations and information gathering between agents and student-athletes, but agreements and receiving extra benefits are not permitted.
The NCAA Division I Amateurism Cabinet, a group of individuals from across membership with representation by 21 conferences, is currently reviewing how the NCAA can continue to help student-athletes gather information about pursuing a career in professional athletics.”
Improper contact with agents is hardly just an SEC issue, and it appears the rest of college football is paying attention.
At Miami, players said Wednesday they’re reminded “constantly” about the rules prohibiting contact with agents. And the investigations that have come out in recent days led to a reiteration of those rules, Hurricanes wide receiver LaRon Byrd said.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Byrd said. “You look at things like that, and I feel like those guys are being selfish, not looking out for the team. That’s something we always instill. It’s all about teamwork here. I would not put my teammates in danger, in jeopardy of losing games or damaging this program because I want to be greedy and take gifts or take things.”
Alabama is among SEC schools who use former NFL executive Joe Mendes to counsel players and families about dealing with agents. Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram said Tide players are educated about dealing with agents or their representatives.
“We have a great program in our organization that teaches us how to deal with situations like that,” said Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram, a junior. “Everybody is educated on how to deal with situations and how to approach those situations.
“My focus is on this team and this football season. Anything else is irrelevant.”
Tide junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower said he hasn’t personally been contacted by agents.
“We try to keep away from things like that and not bring it into the team,” Hightower said.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Coral Gables, Fla., AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Little Rock, Ark., AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington, D.C., and Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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