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Agents remain painful thorn for college football

As he monitored the news about potential improper contact between student-athletes and sports agents this summer at several prominent schools, former longtime Florida State compliance director Bob Minnix couldn't mask his disappointment.

Not that something may have happened.

But that the same thing continues to happen.

"There's nothing new under the sun here," said Minnix, now a senior associate athletic director at Washington State. "We're dealing with the same problems today that we were dealing with 15 years ago."

Minnix, who worked for years with the NCAA enforcement staff, came to FSU in 1995 to help it avoid a replay of an agent-backed $6,000 shopping spree at a Tallahassee Foot Locker store that involved members of the football team in 1993. That team went on to win the first national title for coach Bobby Bowden, but five months after the climactic win against Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, FSU landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline "Tainted Title." It teased to a report detailing how FSU "because of unsavory agents, rule-breaking players and its own lack of vigilance" ended up "a loser."

Since then, FSU implemented a Minnix-designed educational program that has served as a model for other schools. Since then, the state Legislature passed laws to regulate agent activity and to penalize unscrupulous agents by the loss of their state-issued license, a fine or even a felony charge. In all, 41 other states have such laws.

And still …

Florida, the NCAA and law enforcement officials have had to investigate reports that former Gators center Maurkice Pouncey accepted $100,000 from an agent before his final game last season, an allegation he has vehemently denied. In another case, an agent-sponsored party in South Florida may affect players at Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban likened the rule-breaking agents to "pimps." He, Florida's Urban Meyer and Ohio State's Jim Tressel were among the participants on a teleconference with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, an NFLPA official and some well-respected agents to discuss what can be done to address a situation that seems unchanged.

"You don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure this thing out now," Meyer said recently. "You want to stop some kind of unethical, illegal activity. How do you do it? You punish them. The players get punished, and you want to stop the other side, too."

An idea is to bar agents guilty of misconduct from representing players. But no matter what changes are discussed, folks agree that players and their parents must continue to be made aware of what they can and can't do in accordance with NCAA rules.

What's clear is the NCAA is demanding that schools do more. The University of Southern California was severely penalized by the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions in June. That stemmed from a case that involved Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush and his family receiving cash and other benefits from a sports agency before he had exhausted his eligibility.

In its report, the Committee on Infractions wrote that schools are obligated not to "hide their heads in the sand and purport to treat all programs and student-athletes similarly when it comes to the level of scrutiny required. The more potential there is for big payoffs to student-athletes once they turn professional, then the more potential for illicit agent" there is. "In turn, heightened scrutiny is required."

But is that enough?

Some have suggested that the states toughen their agent laws. Or just enforce the ones on the books. A recent Associated Press study found that 24 of the 42 states with an agent law haven't taken any disciplinary action; the AP couldn't ascertain if local prosecutors had filed charges.

According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the state agency that licenses, among others, sports agents, it has received a total of 17 complaints in the last four years and has ultimately penalized two in little-noticed cases resulting in small fines.

"The current Florida law is adequate in terms of what it allows for, and it is probably appropriate in terms of the penalties it provides for if you try to put it in the grand scheme of things," said Bill Cervone, the Alachua County state attorney who was an assistant state attorney in the office in 1999 when the office considered charges against agent William "Tank" Black before federal authorities pursued other charges against Black. "It is not adequate to deter that kind of nefarious behavior with all the money that's at issue for somebody who simply wants to take the gamble.

"The only legislative change that would be realistic in Florida would be to attach criminal penalties to the athlete for accepting the money, and I don't know if that's really desirable or practical. … To me, the current thing that's being talked about, Coach Meyer's been involved and Coach Saban and a couple of others, that makes an awful lot of sense to me. If you keep these people out of being able to practice their trade legitimately by the NFL decertifying them, then you really put a penalty on them.

"It makes a whole lot more sense to me if you can really hit them where it hurts."

Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report. Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Agents remain painful thorn for college football 08/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 9:57pm]

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