(Last updated 1:05 a.m. Thursday)
HOOVER, Ala. –- The NCAA, in the midst of a crackdown on improper dealings between college football players and agents, informed the University of Georgia late Wednesday afternoon that it will send investigators to campus to conduct an “inquiry.”
The probe is believed to be the latest in a recent string of NCAA investigations looking into possible improper benefits received by college football players from agents.
Investigations are known to be underway at North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama.
Georgia associate athletic director Claude Felton confirmed Wednesday’s call from the NCAA and said UGA Athletic Association officials responded by pledging full cooperation.
Felton said the NCAA requested that UGA officials, coaches and student-athletes refrain from further comment on the matter “until the inquiry is completed.” Georgia interim athletic director Frank Crumley declined to comment when reached by the AJC.
The NCAA’s call to Georgia officials in Athens came as the SEC was wrapping up the first session of its annual media days event in Hoover, Ala., where the hot topic was the widespread recent allegations of improper agent activity.
“It’s epidemic right now,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “I think it’s always been there, from what I understand. . . . But I think we’ve reached a point where the size of college football, the magnitude of college football right now, [it] is really overwhelming.”
The NCAA is investigating whether Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus broke NCAA rules by attending a sports agent’s party on Miami’s South Beach during Memorial Day weekend, and NCAA investigators also have interviewed North Carolina players, including defensive tackle Marvin Austin, and South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders about the same party.
In addition, the NCAA is looking into an allegation that former Florida offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey accepted $100,000 from an agent’s representative between last season’s SEC Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl –- an allegation that Pouncey has strongly denied and called “absolutely ridiculous.”
Georgia’s highest-profile pro prospect, junior wide receiver A.J. Green, told SI.com on Tuesday, the day before the NCAA’s call to UGA, that he was not at the South Beach party that triggered investigations at three schools. Green said he spent Memorial Day weekend at home in Summerville, S.C., and that he was asked about the party by a Georgia compliance official on Tuesday.
“I never went to South Beach,” Green said.
Former Georgia wide receiver Michael Moore, Green’s teammate the past two seasons, said Wednesday night on Twitter: “Hahaha. This talk about A.J. is hilarious. That country boy ain’t never been to Miami!!! You can put those rumors to rest.”
It is not clear whether the NCAA informed Georgia which player or players it plans to interview.
NCAA rules prohibit college players from signing contracts with, or accepting benefits from, agents. If a player is found to have done so, he could face loss of college eligibility. If the NCAA finds that the school knew, or should have known, about the matter, the institution also could be penalized.
“At the conclusion of the process, when the facts are known, appropriate determinations will be made as to the amateurism status of the student-athlete and whether the institution was aware or should have been aware of the improper conduct based on existing NCAA rules,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Wednesday, speaking in generalities and not about any specific case.
Slive added: “Given the surreptitious nature of these matters, it is difficult, if not impossible, for institutions to know what might have taken place. . . . My point is, this isn’t done on Main Street at noon with a compliance officer sitting there. Our schools work very hard. We’ve talked about this issue over and over. We’ve brought experts in. Our schools do everything they can to educate student-athletes about what they should and shouldn’t do.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt and three players -– Green, punter Drew Butler and fullback Shaun Chapas -– are scheduled to arrive at media days Thursday morning for appearances before almost 1,000 media members here.
The NCAA’s recent focus on agent activity, dubbed AgentGate by some, was much-discussed during the opening session of the SEC’s annual three-day media event Wednesday.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was most outspoken on the topic, exuding anger from the podium at the Wynfrey Hotel.
Although not excluding players from responsibility, Saban said agents are “entrapping and taking advantage of young people at a difficult time in their life” and should be banned from the agent business for a year if they endanger college players’ eligibility with improper inducements.
“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that is creating it right now on behalf of the agents,” Saban said. “Agents that do this, I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp? I have no respect for people who do that to young people -– none. I mean, none. How would you feel if they did it to your child?”
Slive called for a national re-examination of the agent issue, saying: “This is a national problem that calls for a national agent strategy for college athletics.” He said an NCAA committee should take an outside-the-box look at the issue.
“Dealing with improper agent conduct has been a challenge for a long time,” Slive said. “Not only for intercollegiate athletics, but also for the many good agents who try to follow the rules. It is time to reexamine the NCAA rules that relate to agents.”
After the story broke late Wednesday of the NCAA’s inquiry at Georgia, former Bulldogs linebacker Rennie Curran, who gave up his final season of college eligibility to enter this year’s NFL draft, addressed the matter on his Twitter account.
“Can’t believe how hard the ncaa is trying to crack down on college athletes,” Curran tweeted. “How can [you] expect someone not to look to outside sources…”
Continuing on his next tweet, Curran wrote: “… when there are video games being made of you, your jerseys getting sold, your family is struggling [and] you don’t even get a dime except pell [grant].”
Please follow @ajcuga on Twitter for updates.