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Would NFL rookie wage scale reduce outsiders preying on NCAA athletes?

Oklahomcoach Bob Stoops doesn’t think NFL has answer cleaning up campuses. | Sue Ogrocki~AP

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops doesn’t think the NFL has the answer to cleaning up campuses. | Sue Ogrocki~AP

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Updated: September 11, 2011 12:22AM

The disgraceful fall of a college football power broker nicknamed ‘‘The Senator’’ intensifies the spotlight on the systemic issues plaguing the NCAA.

In the coming days, weeks and months, the polished image of Jim Tressel, who resigned as Ohio State’s football coach on Memorial Day, surely will surely lose its luster, emphasizing the murkiness of college football, a multibillion-dollar business.

Everyone’s making money except the players, and they’re often preyed upon by others looking to cash in, too.

Wholesale changes are needed, and even the NFL may be able to make a contribution by establishing a rookie wage scale. But rival Big 12 coaches Bob Stoops of Oklahoma and Mack Brown of Texas represent the varied opinions about how much a rookie wage scale would
reduce the number of agents and so-called “runners” infiltrating campuses.

‘‘I don’t think it’s going to make a big difference,’’ Stoops said. ‘‘It would only make a difference for the top 15 players. And if they’re that kind of guy, they’re going to get good advice from people like me.’’

Brown said he wants his players to make as much as possible, but he acknowledged the potential merits of a rookie wage scale in curbing on-campus recruiting.

‘‘First and foremost, I’m for anything we can do to help curtail the actions of unethical agents and address the growing concern of third parties and street agents,” Brown said. ‘‘I’m not here to say whether a rookie wage scale is the answer. We want our players in the NFL to be able to earn as much as possible. That said, from a positive standpoint, if a kid and his family have a pretty good idea of exactly what he can make in the NFL, that might discourage the agent that is not going by the rules from being involved.’’

Since 2000, players taken in the first round of the NFL draft have collected $3.5  billion in guaranteed money.

How much of that money they’ve earned is another question, which is why the NFL is pushing to implement a rookie wage scale similar to those of the NBA and NHL. Naturally, NFL owners would prefer to avoid wasting money on players such as J’Marcus Russell and Charles Rogers, colossal busts who cashed in more than $46 million in guarantees.

‘‘It doesn’t seem like good business to pay someone who hasn’t proven himself while the guys in the league have earned that type of salary,’’ said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who doesn’t believe a rookie wage scale would clean up college campuses. ‘‘I think someone has to earn it. That’s just good business.’’

Two veteran agents said they’d favor a rookie wage scale because it would force peers to take a long-term approach to clients instead of a short-term one. Under the current system, agents can concentrate on quantity,
enabling them to say anything to sign rookies, then losing them to other agents down the line. But with a new wage scale, agents would have to
focus on quality — scouting and projecting a prospect even if he winds up going in the fifth round.

Stoops said his concerns are the second- and third-round picks who are misled to believe by an agent that they could go in the first round.

‘‘Then it’s a mistake,” Stoops said, “and then they play for a discount.”

What Andrew Luck did in January was refreshing. The Stanford quarterback, who was almost certain to be the top pick in the 2011 NFL draft, announced Jan. 6 that he would remain at Stanford to complete his degree.

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said he’s hopeful Luck is starting a trend, but he’s cautiously optimistic.

‘‘Let’s hope that’s the result,’’ Maturi said. ‘‘But outside influences of kids has increased, and I don’t see that going backwards.’’

How much did Luck pass up? No one knows for sure until a new collective bargaining agreement is agreed upon by NFL owners and players. But whenever that’s resolved, many are counting on an overhaul to rookies’ contracts.

‘‘It’s another major issue in our negotiations,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told Tennessee Titans season-ticket holders last week. ‘‘For unproven rookies, while they should be compensated well, that money should be going to the guys who have already proven it on the NFL field. That is a core issue that we have not been able to reach an agreement on with the union.’’

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