Some sports agents hang around dorm rooms. Others lurk in cafeterias. Some even acquire players' cell phone numbers, home addresses and other personal information, hoping to foster a relationship with Maryland players who someday could be worth millions in the NFL.
Ralph Friedgen, who has coached in both the professional and college ranks, is aware of the presence of agents around his program. But, like many coaches of big-time football programs, he is confronted with a daunting challenge: How does one monitor players 24 hours a day?
He now has assistance.
In the offseason, Maryland hired Kevin Glover, a former Terrapins offensive lineman who played with the Detroit Lions for more than a decade, as the athletic department's director of character education. Although his office is housed in the Gossett Football Team House, Glover helps all Maryland teams address issues such as drugs, gambling and date rape by bringing in guest speakers and organizing other educational functions. Glover also serves as the liaison between the football team and the NFL, helping players and coaches alike navigate a world of dangers and confusion.
"The scariest things for me are things I can't control, and yet I am held responsible for them," Friedgen said. "He has taken a tremendous burden off me."
Many schools rely on compliance officers to help ensure players follow NCAA rules when dealing with agents. Others, such as Southern Cal, have a senior administrator who deals with agent-related issues, among other responsibilities. But few schools have a person whose duties so largely involve addressing agents, which many involved in college sports say has become an increasingly relevant topic.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Maryland is the first program to have somebody in that role," said Reggie Terry, who has a similar position as Syracuse's director of football operations and player development.
Not all agents, of course, are unscrupulous. But it's difficult for student-athletes to discern the good from the bad if an agent is "trying to get his teeth into a young man and his family," Terry said. NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from accepting gifts from agents. While rules permit athletes to talk to them, Glover and Terry prefer athletes refer the agent to them instead. That way, they say, Glover and Terry can perform background searches on an agency, ask for a client list or tell an agent politely to back off if a player wants to be left alone.
One danger with an athlete interacting with an agent, Glover said, is that the person may deny being a registered agent and could instead be a "runner," someone loosely affiliated with an agent who makes introductions with student-athletes. "You could start a relationship with someone and have no idea they are affiliated with a firm," Glover said this summer. "All it takes is for a kid to go out with someone and they say, 'Oh, I'll pay for that.' And you're already committed to that firm and have done something illegal."
Terry said Syracuse stations someone near the team bus after games because agents often roam, looking to cultivate relationships with top players. "It's a feeding frenzy," said Terry, a former Syracuse football player, who added, "In this day and age, the player has to be really naive to think he won't be found out" if he accepts gifts.
In 2002, two former Fresno State men's basketball players admitted accepting a combined $31,000 and other gifts from a Las Vegas-based sports agency while they competed. Auburn basketball standout Chris Porter's season was cut short in 2000 when payments funneled from an agent were uncovered.
And days before USC opened its 2004 season, the NCAA denied all-American wide receiver Mike Williams's request to have his eligibility restored because the player had signed with an agent. Williams entered the NFL draft before a league rule, which barred players who were less than three years out of high school from turning pro, was upheld by the Supreme Court. "I think if he had someone like Kevin in his program," Maryland defensive end Shawne Merriman said, "I don't think that mistake would have been made."
Legislation passed by voice vote in the U.S. Congress last week would impose tougher penalties on agents who lure student-athletes with inducements that threaten their eligibility. The legislation, which now goes to President Bush for his signature, was promoted by Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.), the former Nebraska football coach whose statement read in part, "As a former coach, I witnessed time and again sports agents illegally using cash and gifts to recruit student-athletes."
Said Bill Saum, the NCAA's director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities: "Absolutely, we're very concerned about sports agents. And we give Maryland credit for being proactive."
Maryland's impetus for hiring Glover was sparked by a conversation between Friedgen and Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who expressed the need for one person to handle an array of campus-wide issues. Friedgen recommended Glover, whom he called the easiest player he's ever coached at Maryland. Said Yow, "He is everything Ralph said he would be."
In addition to anchoring the Lions' offensive line in the 1980s and '90s, Glover was his team's NFL Players Association representative for six seasons and was elected to serve on that organization's executive committee for two years. After he retired, Glover worked as an agent for two years, which helped him gain perspective on the other side of the business.
For players who lack proper guidance, their only education into the world of agents comes from agents themselves. It is not uncommon, many say, for agents to offer players misinformation, intentionally or not, regarding the NFL draft. The belief is that players are more likely to bond with an agent who says he believes the player is potentially a high draft pick. That's where Glover comes in, to consult with NFL scouts and separate fact from fiction.
"You can always go to Kevin and he's always going to give you a straightforward and honest answer," said Merriman, a junior. "And that's what you look for, ultimately, because you are going to hear so many different things from so many different people. And you have to trust his judgment because he's been there. Everything goes through him."
Glover invites representatives from the NFL players' union on campus to speak to players and parents about the draft process. As early as this summer, Glover already had consulted with a few Maryland underclassmen who are expected to be in position to garner interest from the NFL and agents this season.
"When that time comes, if I get that chance to go to the next level, he'll be the first person I talk to," Maryland junior middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "And he'll be the first person I'm sure Coach Friedgen would recommend me to talk to."
Said Glover: "If anyone decided to come out early, I'm pretty sure we're going to be able to help them do it in the proper way. They are not going to be taken advantage of."