One of the hot topics around college football these days is agents improperly contacting underclassmen to represent them at the next level.
It came to a head when the NCAA penalized Southern California with a two-year bowl game ban and a loss of scholarships for former player Reggie Bush's relationship with agents while still at USC.
During the summer, the NCAA looked into improper agent contact with players at schools such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
"That's a side industry that infiltrated the programs," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "It's harmful to programs. I don't think it's affecting Reggie Bush's life too much, but it's hurting USC."
The Beavers haven't had issues with agents recently, but were on guard because of senior defensive tackle Stephen Paea.
Paea is considered one of the best players at his position and a potential first-round NFL draft pick come April. His agility and strength on a 6-foot-1, 311-pound frame doesn't come around often.
He was courted heavily by agents in the offseason. They wanted him to sign a contract so they could represent him and enter the last April's NFL draft a year early.
"The mother heard some outrageous promises," Riley said. "They were aware enough to get in touch with the right people to advise them."
Agents are allowed to contact players, according to OSU associate athletic director for compliance Alex Parker. They just can't sign with them for future representation and return to the college team.
Once they sign, they forfeit the rest of their eligibility. Players who keep that a secret get teams in trouble.
Leaving the Beavers early didn't cross Paea's mind until after last season. He wants to be the first in his family to earn a degree, and enjoys playing for the Beavers.
Agents convinced his parents he could make millions of dollars by leaving school early.
"It didn't bother my parents, it bothered me a lot," Paea said of the constant calls. "I wanted to come back from the beginning. My mom and dad were about money. If I left, it was for that reason only. But there was no reason to leave now."
Paea asked Riley, who has coached much of his career in the college and NFL game, for advice. Riley is also on the board of directors of the American Football Coaches Association and aware of the agent issue.
Riley put Paea in contact with the NFL Players Association, which helps players with the decision to leave school early. There's an evaluation process that helps them learn their worth so the player can make a logical decision.
"My mom wanted to go through the process," Paea said. "Then after I did, when they called me I told them I can't. I have a season to take care of. They'll come to work for me someday. So I have to do what's right for me now."
Paea learned he would be a low second-round or possible third-round selection. There were several standout defensive tackles in the 2010 draft, but should be fewer in 2011.
Another piece of the puzzle was that the rookie salary cap wasn't going to be in place until after the 2011 draft.
That information made it easy for Paea to ignore the agents.
"They just said you'll miss out on the opportunity to be a millionaire," Paea said. "I know we won't have that money right away. It was a sacrifice. Maybe next year will be better than this year."
NFLDraftScout.com ranks Paea as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the 2011 draft, behind North Carolina's Marvin Austin, and the No. 15 pick overall.
If Paea is the 15th pick he'll make significant money. Reports said South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul received a five-year contract worth more than $15 million with more than $11 guaranteed from the New York Giants after the 2010 draft.
In contrast, cornerback Jerome Murphy from South Florida received a $937,739 signing bonus and a four-year contract worth $2.7 million from the St. Louis Rams as the first pick in the third round.
Former OSU cornerback Brandon Browner wasn't as shrewd. The third-year sophomore was advised against leaving, but someone convinced him to leave after the 2004 season.
He didn't get drafted by an NFL team, but signed as a free agent. Browner didn't stick due to an injury in camp and ended up in the Canadian Football League.
The Beavers educate players every year about agents and what you can't do. There's an annual hour-long meeting done by the compliance department with the first 15 minutes devoted to agents.
Riley then has his own meeting to remind them. He had a special one-on-one meeting with Paea.
"Our basic philosophy is before your eligibility is expired, there is nothing an agent can do for you," Parker said. "The time to deal with an agent is January to mid-April. It's a simple message, but we hit that message home hard."
The only other players Riley could worry about, but doesn't, are the Rodgers brothers. Junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers will be sought after once this season ends.
The logic with Rodgers is running backs can only take so many tackles. So why get hurt and not get paid?
"I'm not worried about them, and I haven't talked to them that much about it," Riley said. "I've talked to their uncle (former 49ers player Michael Lewis) about it. And he's the only one they talk to (about football decisions)."
If Rodgers uses the NFLPA's help, Riley believes he'll make the right decision with his uncle's input.
Riley says agents visiting campus must be registered with the school. The unscrupulous ones don't. Sometimes they use middle-men to do make a connection.
That's why college coaches have asked for help from the NFL and NCAA about controlling agents. New USC coach Lane Kiffin asked for help during Pac-10 media day so his program doesn't get in trouble again.
"I don't know what that means," Riley said of how the NFL can help. "But there are people in the NFL who are great advocates (of staying in school). I don't think they want that (underclassmen leaving school) any more than we do. Then we'd be like basketball."
As the Beavers improve, they may recruit more talented players. But for now, they have avoided trouble with Paea.
For his protection, his family plans to take out an insurance policy just in case he gets seriously hurt and it impacts his draft status.
"It means a lot for me to be at Oregon State this season helping the young guys," Paea said. "I need to be a leader and play my heart out. And get better in every phase of football and life. Then I'll be ready to move on."