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July 21, 2010

Agent issues dominate SEC Media Days

HOOVER _ Even though he was the first coach to meet with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Nick Saban provided the buzz-term for this year's SEC Media Days, which run through Friday at the Wynfrey Hotel.

"Pimp" isn't often heard during preseason press conferences, even in describing rogue agents.

Saban made the reference a day after ESPN reported that University of Alabama junior defensive lineman Marcell Dareus was being investigated for allegedly attending an agent's party in Miami's South Beach on Memorial Day weekend and potentially violating NCAA rules.

An Alabama official denied a published report that Dareus has already been declared ineligible, calling it "fiction," and said that the university was just beginning to look into the matter. Nevertheless, Saban went on the offensive.

"I don't think it's anything but greed that is creating it right now on behalf of the agents," Saban said. "Agents that do this, 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. I mean, none. How would you feel if they did it to your child?"

Dareus, who has the potential to be a top selection in next year's NFL Draft, is expected to anchor the Crimson Tide's defensive line this season after tallying 33 tackles, nine for a loss and a team-high 6 sacks last year. He made the hit to knock Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl and also returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half.

Crimson Tide teammates attending Media Days vowed to be supportive, with junior running back Mark Ingram calling Dareus a team leader, but know he could potentially be facing a suspension depending on the investigation's outcome.

"The good thing about our defensive line is that we're very deep there," senior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "Although the experience isn't there, there's depth in talent."

"We have a lot of young guys with athleticism, so if it happens we lose Marcell for a game or two I think we'll be fine," junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower echoed, before adding: "Marcell is one of a kind. I don't think you're going to see too many people able to play the game like (him), with the engine, the speed and the mindset he has. He's probably one of the best players I've ever seen."

Dareus appears to be the lone Alabama player involved while other programs are slowly being drawn into the scandal. NCAA investigators have interviewed several North Carolina players, including defensive end Marvin Austin, and South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders about attending the party. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that the NCAA has requested permission to conduct an inquiry on Georgia campus as well, although its exact nature has not been disclosed.

In addition to improper conduct, at issue is how the trips were paid, which could constitute improper benefits.

In an unrelated matter, former Florida center Maurkice Pouncey released a statement through his attorney denying accusations that he took money from an agent prior to last season's Sugar Bowl: "I did not accept $100,000, it is an absolutely ridiculous claim. I have completely cooperated with the investigation and answered any and all questions put to me."

Florida coach Urban Meyer said he heard the allegations roughly 5-6 weeks ago via an anonymous letter and went straight to Pouncey for answers.

Pouncey's brother Michael, who is still on the Gators, also denied the allegations and those suggesting he might have received anything illicit through his brother. Nevertheless, Meyer shared Saban's concern about agents and runners contacting eligible players or their families, using the terms "predators."

"Keeping them off campus is arguably one of the most ridiculous statements I've heard," Meyer said. "You can't.

"It's an epidemic right now and it's an epidemic that needs to get fixed."

Earlier Wednesday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive also called for the governing body of collegiate athletics to review its rules regarding agents and pledged the conference's involvement.

"It is time to re-examine the NCAA rules that relate to agents," Slive said as part of his opening remarks. "By saying that, I don't mean in a moment to excuse conduct that's inappropriate by student-athletes. This is a national problem that calls for a national agent strategy for college athletics. 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.

"An NCAA committee has been established to look at this issue. It's a good beginning."

Saban's angst was more directed at the NFL and the NFL Players Association in particular. One idea that he's floated, to demonstrate the seriousness of the issue, would be to ban scouts and all other NFL personnel from practices until the league takes action.

"They could fix it, it could get fixed," he said. "I've never had one minute of our practice ever restricted to NFL scouts, anything we do, in benefit of our players. I would absolutely hate to do this."

However, there are laws designed to curtail solicitation of athletes who are still in school. In 2000, the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws drafted model legislation, with the Uniform Athlete Agents Act having since been passed in 38 states (including every state with an SEC school), the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Criminal penalties in Alabama can equal a Class B felony (up to six months imprisonment in the county or municipal jail, or a fine up to $1000, or both), in addition to civil penalties, but few have been prosecuted - in part because it's so difficult to prove.

"We had an issue a couple years ago with Smitty (Andre Smith) who got suspended for the Sugar Bowl," Saban said. "You know, we probably could have prosecuted the guy. 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 then 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.

"Whatever we need to do to create some consequences for people who are not doing the right things here, which starts with the agent, in my opinion, who is entrapping and taking advantage of young people at a difficult time in their life, to make these kinds of decisions, although the players are responsible and the players should have consequences if they do it, but the agent should have consequences. Right now, they have none. They have none."


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