Steinberg: Speed agent dating at USC football

The University of Southern California football program took a dynamic step Wednesday in insuring its compliance with NCAA player-agent relations by holding an Agent Day on campus.

It began with new Coach Steve Sarkisian welcoming the agents access to players as long as the agents followed the timetable and system that the athletic department and its compliance program have established to protect the athletes.

Sarkisian assured agents the school would work harmoniously with them as long as they respect the guidelines.

There are hundreds of certified agents trying to contact each player regarding representation. They can disrupt the training camp and regular season concentration of players. More threatening is the practice of offering money or other inducements to players with eligibility remaining, which is an NCAA violation.

It is extremely difficult for any school to monitor all the interactions, so an Agent Day is a constructive preventive step.

Coach Sarkisian made it clear he believed some players received bad advice in coming out of school early this past year and ended up undrafted. He made it clear that his interest was the players' welfare and that if a junior was truly projected to be a top of the first-round type player, he would understand why they would enter the draft.

The school allowed juniors and redshirt sophomores to go through agent interviews. This insures that the underclassmen who could enter the draft also get the same preparation. Coach Sarkisian prepared the players for the process in a private session and they were provided with a series of due diligence questions to ask agents.

The players were given name cards and agents were directed to their first interview. Each session cold only took 10 minutes.

Agents were given strict guidelines as to what they could distribute to players. Agents committed to talk to every single prospect, whatever their projected draft status was. And a speed dating process began.

Unfortunately, there were many more agents than players to speak to so the process had a "musical chairs" quality to it with agents sitting out some of the 10-minute periods.

I never got the opportunity to talk to two of the players that I most wanted to see, and the two top-rated prospects for next year decided to skip the whole session.

This was a novel first attempt to control a problem and undoubtedly will be refined for following years.

The players were focused and asked intelligent questions. They were personable and polite. They all seemed like quality young men. There will be further meetings when the regular season ends between agents and players who found common interest.

Players cannot sign a contract with agents until their eligibility ends — either the last regular-season game or the team bowl game.

Having survived a nightmarish several years of sanctions, Athletic Director Pat Haden, Sarkisian, and the USC compliance department plotted an effective way to regulate an area which had been out of control in the past.

With well designed preventive programs like this, it is unlikely the Trojans will be hamstrung again.


LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.

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