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|Should Alabama coach Nick Saban take a look at his own job description before he calls out agents?|
Inflammatory. Attention-grabbing. Quite possibly a clever, self-serving, scapegoating diversion. Alabama football coach Nick Saban's recent assertion that agents who make improper contact with college athletes are akin to "pimps" was many things.
A wholly accurate economic analogy isn't one of them.
Think it through: Sports agents negotiate compensation (salary) within an informally codified range (via NFL rookie wage slotting) for services rendered (playing football) on behalf of their clients. They don't control their clients (they can be fired at any time) nor choose whom their clients work for (league drafts handle that). According to the NFL Players' Association, the maximum agent fee is 3 percent of a client's total compensation.
By contrast, pimps use psychological tactics and physical abuse to control their clients. A 2007 University of Chicago study -- co-authored by economist Steven Levitt, also the co-author of "Freakonomics" -- found that pimps set prices (compensation) for their clients, provide protection (largely from police) and typically charge a whopping 25 percent commission on their clients' earnings.
As such, likening sports agents to pimps doesn't make much sense. For the comparison to work, agents would have to exercise a far greater degree of control over their clients' lives and livelihoods (by setting schedules, doling out playing time, enforcing onerous team transfer penalties) via psychological and physical intimidation (verbally humiliating clients, allegedly striking them). They'd have to protect their clients from street-level danger (for instance, by banning NFL scouts from college campuses). And they'd have to make a whole lot more money from their clients' risky physical labor (perhaps by commanding multimillion dollar contracts and lucrative local television deals).
In other words, for agents to be economically comparable to any self-respecting pimp, they'd have to be ... a lot more like college football coaches.