When Coach Nick Saban got up on the podium at SEC Media days and uttered the "P" word before a live microphone you could almost hear the nation's sports columnists suck in their breath in excitement. The college football off season is excruciatingly long and it's hard to find material to fill the demands for copy. But with one four letter word a whole week of material suddenly appeared.
Now a number of sports columnists used Coach Saban's statements to highlight the issue in question: that there are a lot of unscrupulous agents working on the fringes of college football and the proper authority to deal with them needs to get it's butt in gear and take care of the problem. (The Huntsville Times' Mark McCarter had a particularly well-done column about the issue.)
But, of course, crafting a well-reasoned article that lays out the issues and presents them in an objective manner for the reader is.... well, work. And it's a hell of a lot easier -- not to mention more popular -- just to crank out a couple hundred words to bash Coach Saban and hit the bar to yuk it up with a bunch of clowns who will spend the night telling you how great a writer you are (see? cheap generalization as a literary device - so easy anybody can do it!).
Sadly, a fair number of columnists took this route. WARNING: The following links contain excessive amounts of stupid:
- Rick Telander l The Chicago Sun-Times
- Dexter Rodgers l The Huffington Post
- Jeff Schultz l The Atlanta Journal Constitution
- Dennis Dodd l CBS Sports
- Jim Litke l The Associated Press
- Mike Celizic l NBC Sports
- Hunt Archbold l The Sunday Paper
- Derrick Z. Jackson l The Boston Globe
- Mark Kriegel l FoxSports
The sloppy logic fueling all these columns is pretty much the same. Coach Saban makes $4 million a year and is criticizing a group of people whose profession is representing athletes in their attempts to make that kind of money in the pros. Ergo, he is a hypocrite. Which is arguable in itself (and a fantastic example of the ad hominem fallacy) but becomes ludicrous when the deliberate misrepresentations of Coach Saban's statements are revealed.
Each and every one of these writers deliberately misrepresents Coach Saban's pimp statement as directed at all agents. It wasn't and even a cursory look at the tape shows this. The agents Coach Saban has a problem with are those deliberately acting in violation of the NCAA's restrictions for player-agent contact and the rules laid down by the NFLPA.
Yet from that faulty premise these hacks compound their stupidity by conveniently overlooking the fact that the actions of these unscrupulous agents could cost the student athletes untold millions if this illegal contact affects their eligibility. Add lots of one sentence paragraphs (preferably featuring rhetorical questions) and VOILA! you've just written a nationally circulated sports column.
The facts of the situation tell a much different story than these writers would have you believe. Under Coach Saban, the policy for handling sports agents at University of Alabama has been recognized as an outstanding example of how a program can work to the benefit of all involved. The Crimson Tide football program is regularly cited as one of the most open to agents as well as scouts for professional teams -- policies that only improve player's chances at the next level.
This approach is designed to ensure student athletes are able to retain their eligibility while having an opportunity to make the proper decision on who will represent them as a professional. And no, it's not a completely altruistic enterprise. The better the program is at getting its star players big payoffs in the pros, the better it will be at enticing five-star recruits to come play in Tuscaloosa.
But schools can only do so much to deal with the bad apples among the agents, they have to have help from the NFL -- both the league and the player's association. And Coach Saban's outburst was deliberately designed to get their attention rather than appeal to the hyper-populist moral sensibilities of the nation's sports columnists.
And, in the end, it's the former that will make a difference for the game long after the latter is reduced to used fish wrap.