Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini never thought he'd see the day when having two potential first-round NFL Draft picks on his defense would be almost as much of a risk as it was a luxury.
Senior cornerback Prince Amukamara and junior defensive tackle Jared Crick were already projected as possible first-day picks coming into the season. While their talents on the field are obviously two of the biggest reasons for NU's defensive success, they've also drawn the attention of some of the biggest problems currently facing college football - agents.
Over the past few years, numerous high-profile football players have been caught dealing with agents before their NCAA eligibility expires. While some players are punished by the NCAA before jumping to the NFL, many get away essentially unscathed, leaving their former universities and teammates to bare the brunt of their mistakes.
That's why Pelini has made it a top priority to make sure his players are aware of all the consequences that come with dealing with agents earlier than needed.
"It is a problem," Pelini said on his weekly radio show last Thursday. "You have to educate your guys and show them what's at stake, not only for them but for the university and for everybody involved. You know, I've met a lot of great agents and good people, and it's just there's some bad ones out there.
"They're out there just to make a buck off these student-athletes, and they're going to do it any way they can. Those are the ones who give the reputable guys, the guys who are doing it the right way, a bad image and a bad name. It's a shame."
For as much effort as Pelini and his staff have put in to warn their players of the dangers agents present, he admitted that there is no way for teams and universities to completely stop student-athletes from being lured by the temptations of money and other gifts.
That's why he and many other coaches are strongly pushing for the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell to take more action against agents and players who commit violations rather than simply punish universities after the fact.
In fact, Pelini said there was a teleconference last month in which a handful of college coaches, including the likes of Alabama's Nick Saban and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, discussed possible solutions to better coordinate punishments between the NCAA and NFL.
If there was a way the NFL could fine or even suspend players caught violating NCAA rules with agents while still in college, Pelini said more players and agents would think twice about having to deal with much more direct consequences.
"It's heading in a direction where the NFL needs to get involved," Pelini said. "They're the ones who have to put the hammer on it, because they have the opportunity to take away the livelihood of some of these agents and really penalize them in such a way that they can go after not only the agent, but the athletes who get involved with them, and they lose money in the long run once they're in the NFL.
"To me, that's the only way it's going to get fixed. Otherwise, who gets in trouble? The universities get in trouble, when it's almost impossible to police all these guys."
While the issue of player contact with agents has been a hot topic in recent months, Pelini said the problem is nothing new in college football. He recalled some of his former Ohio State teammates getting suspended for dealing with agents back during the 1987 season.
Remembering how losing those teammates impacted the Buckeyes that season, Pelini has been extremely direct about his stance on agents with his players at Nebraska.
Amukamara, who is widely regarded as one of the top defensive prospects in the draft this season, said he's had multiple conversations with Pelini and NU defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders about how to handle agents during the season.
He even said he's gone to former Huskers in the NFL like Ndamukong Suh, last year's No. 2 overall pick, for advice on how they went about the process. Amukamara said Suh advised him to select a trusted person to handle all contact with agents until the season was over, and Amukamara took him up on that suggestion when agents started calling him as soon as last season ended.
"I get a lot of calls and a lot of text messages, and I'm wondering how they even got my number," Amukamara said. "They've been texting and calling me, and I've been cordial with them and just hearing whet they have to say, and then I just give them the number for the person who's helping me out. That's it."
Amukamara said agents began calling him almost immediately after the Holiday Bowl and then on into spring practice. He said many of them were pushing him to forego his senior season, using the fact that this year would be the final season of uncapped rookie salaries and a looming NFL lockout in 2011 as scare tactics.
Crick has received many of the same calls, but like Amukamara, he's insistent on not giving any of them the time of day until after the season.
"Agents will send their brochures and stuff, but I've told every agent that's called me to leave me alone," Crick said. "I think everybody on the squad is doing that. I know Coach Bo's policy on agents, and I know how he dislikes them so much, so I don't want to upset Coach Bo, and definitely I don't lose my eligibility and hurt my team in some way. I've just been avoiding it. If they want to call, they can call, but I'm not going to call them back."
Though he said he's considering possibly leaving early after this season and entering the NFL Draft, Crick said he hasn't put much of any thought into the NFL yet. For now, he's solely focused on Nebraska, even if it is just for one more season.
"I haven't been getting a lot of calls, my parents have been getting the brunt of that," Crick said. "They've been saying the same thing, 'just leave my son alone.' I still may be here for a year after this, so the NFL is the least of my concerns right now."
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