Initiative evidenced by hosting summit

Agentgate. Anyone who is a fan of USC knows how improper contact between student-athletes, most notably Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo, and agents has negatively affected the athletic program, namely football and men’s basketball.

When the NCAA slammed USC with the scarlet letter of “lack of institutional control” last summer, it was obvious a change needed to be made.

So out went longtime athletic director Mike Garrett, who presided over the department that lacked control, and in stepped experienced lawyer, athlete and journalist Pat Haden.

Ever since Haden stepped foot on campus as athletic director, he can’t seem to do anything wrong. He has said all the right things and acted in the best interests of USC and its athletic teams.

Tuesday, Haden got it right again. For the first time ever, he assembled and held an agent awareness summit.

Haden, vice president of athletic compliance David Roberts and senior associate athletic director Mark Jackson were joined by NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson, NFL Players’ Association agent administration director Mark Levin, every Pac-10 athletic director, three agents and SEC commissioner Mike Slive attended.

The goal of the summit was for administrators to gather information about compliance practices at other institutions, and to investigate how to act in the best interests of the athletes, agents, university and everyone else associated with collegiate athletics.

In short, it became rather clear that Haden is proactively working with agents, the NCAA and student-athletes to ensure that everyone can get what they want without breaking the rules.

Haden said the summit caused him to take a new approach.

“The discussion was, ‘Hey, we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t believe in our heart that every one of these guys wants to go to the NFL or NBA,” Haden said at a press conference following the event. “I have been one that often starts with a negative, to say, ‘Hey, your odds of going to the NFL are remote.’ That’s not what they want to hear. We’re going to have to think how they think.”

Despite what people might want to believe, Haden is right in thinking that many student-athletes place sports as their biggest priority when attending college. They are majoring in their sport in hopes of becoming professional athletes as a student majors and practices engineering in hopes of becoming an engineer.

Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley has stated in interviews that his number one goal is to make it to the NFL.

That is not at all suggesting he’s letting academics slide, but it just reinforces the idea that many athletes go to college, and especially USC, with the primary goal of making it to the next level.

Like it or not, agents are going to try to woo athletes because they are all potential clients. So with that frame of mind, Haden can use this summit to figure out how best to deal with agents.

I can give you a hint: It isn’t the way Alabama coach Nick Saban did when he called them “pimps” last summer. The notion that all agents are bad is false, as agents are a vital part of the transition to the next level for athletes, and as a result, USC shouldn’t be shooing them away, but rather ensuring proper contact is made.

Haden also hit the right note by inviting the representatives from the NFL and NFLPA to the summit, even though they have nothing to do with collegiate athletics, for there is a disconnect between the NCAA and pro sports.

Whether or not Haden did this to get brownie points with the NCAA as it weighs its ruling on USC’s appeal probably won’t be known. Although Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement, sounded positive in a statement about the summit, which she attended.

“[Senior associate athletic director] Mark Jackson and Pat Haden of USC are to be credited for bringing those groups to the table,” Lach said.

But nonetheless, I doubt any of this will have any effect on the ruling. It is another right step for Haden, however, as he looks to get ahead of the curve and restore USC’s winning ways.

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