Sorry, Saban: Players Need Money. And Agents University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban has thrown a fit about agents -- who have the audacity to interest college players in getting paid for their labors. Two Alabama standouts have reportedly been asked about attending parties thrown by agents this year.
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Sorry, Saban: Players Need Money. And Agents

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Sorry, Saban: Players Need Money. And Agents

Sorry, Saban: Players Need Money. And Agents

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

There are all sorts of rules governing college sports, and commentator Frank Deford wonders whether it's time for one of those rules to change.

FRANK DEFORD: This might be the off-season for college sports but nonetheless, summer has been chock-full of more inspiring stories of skullduggery in higher athletic education.

My favorite brouhaha has been provided by Nick Saban, the dictatorial football coach at the University of Alabama, who's thrown a conniption fit about agents - they who have the audacity to interest college players in the possibility of actually getting paid for their labors. Saban flat-out likened sports agents to pimps.

Now, understand this. Nick Saban makes $4 million a year from Alabama, plus something else again in side deals. And while he takes home this lollapalooza, all the players he coaches are forbidden, by antiquated, amateur rules, to earn a living.

Meanwhile, agents, who are honorable brokers in all other parts of the entertainment world - representing musicians, actors, writers and, of course, all hard-working athletes except American collegians - agents help guide and make more money for their clients, taking a reasonable legal fee for service.

But in bringing the subject up - even gathering a national conference call last week with other coaches and the NFL commissioner himself - Coach Saban made me think exactly the reverse: how advantageous it would be for all concerned if young American athletes were permitted to sign and be educated by reputable agents, even as soon as they're recruited in high school.

First of all, this would clear out a lot of the scummy leeches who now attach themselves to vulnerable young players and their families. College agents, like the ones who work in the pro leagues, would be vetted and certified.

Agents should then be allowed to work upfront deals for the players, with the understanding that they would be repaid when the player hits the pro jackpot. Some blue-chippers, especially in basketball, might be signed up to a bonus right out of high school. Other late developers might not be worth an agent's advance 'til much later.

It would simply be a futures market, and if the player is hurt or fails to pan out, he owes nothing to the agent. Hey, sometimes there is a drought that sinks soybean futures, too. But meanwhile, the agent has an investment, and the player is making honest money, based on his assessed potential that costs his school absolutely nothing.

Who knows? With an actual income, some happier athletes might even stay in college for more seasons.

Letting honest, professional agents advise and support innocent young athletes would remove so much hypocrisy from the system. And I thank Coach Saban for further bringing this injustice to my attention.

WERTHEIMER: The comments of Frank Deford, who joins us each Wednesday from WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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