GREENSBORO, N.C. — It may be a new week and a different conference, but on Sunday, college football officials and reporters were talking about the same topic.
After concerns over alleged impropriety and illegal activity on the part of agents and athletes dominated the headlines at last week’s SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., they took a rather muted, but nonetheless prominent position at the forefront of the start of the ACC Kickoff on Sunday.
In its opening day, the ACC’s version of the annual preseason media gathering saw more taciturn terms used to describe the controversial and problematic relationship between college stars and the agents vying for their services, instead of the attention-grabbing phrases that stole the SEC show.
Last week, Alabama head coach Nick Saban compared agents to “pimp(s)” in an attempt to discuss how he feels they exploit players and universities while getting away free from punishment after initiating improper contact with athletes.
“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents,” Saban said. “I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. How would you feel if they did it to your child?”
ACC commissioner John Swofford, in less harsh language, expressed the same concern.
“We need to reach out to the NFL players association and NBA players association along with the NCAA to give us some help in terms of sanctioning agents and/or runners that don’t act appropriately,” Swofford said during an 11-minute answer to a single question on the issue. “When these problems surface, the student-athlete gets hurt in some way. … The institution gets impacted. They hurt themselves on the field, and more importantly, it eventually damages their reputation even if the institution didn’t do anything wrong.
“And then, by and large, with very few exceptions, the people who don’t pay a price are the agents and the runners who are instigating this.”
This agent talk was sparked in recent weeks by investigations the NCAA has performed at schools including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and the ACC’s own North Carolina. Mostly centering upon a party in Miami that was attended by players and agents alike, the NCAA is alleging that several college athletes in recent months have accepted illegal contributions from people vying to represent them when their professional careers begin.
One of those linked to similar charges has been North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin. His status for playing this season is unclear as the school or the NCAA could suspend him once the investigations are complete. That, however, is not the scenario his fellow Tar Heels lineman, Robert Quinn has in mind.
“Right now, in my mind, he’s going to be there,” Quinn said.
While the agent issue has pervaded his conference, Swofford was slower than Saban to pull the trigger and broadly blame the entire player representation industry.
“There are quality agents out there,” Swofford said. “The tendency may be to paint with a wide brush on this issue, but we do need to recognize that there are quality people out there representing professional athletes.”