With the NCAA launching investigations against multiple SEC schools because of issues involving improper contact with agents -- and Alabama coach Nick Saban in turn comparing unethical agents to "pimps" -- it seemed like a good time to get in touch with Blake Baratz. About a year ago, the Minnetonka native started his own agency (The Institute for Athletes) after spending six years in Los Angeles as a sports agent. Here we go:


RandBall: Just an opener, some thoughts on the state of affairs right now between athletes, agents and schools?
Blake Baratz: Do I understand how a 19, 20 year old kid who’s never had $10 takes money? Yeah. I understand the logic and why it happens. But I don’t agree with it. … If someone wants to buy you now, they’re probably willing to sell you four months from now. You’ve waited so long in your life, you don’t have to take something right now. … I think we need to re-evaluate the whole thing. How agents are operating, when they’re operating, what they’re able to do … right now it’s the wild, wild west. You have agents, runners, AAU coaches, all these people. It’s a big mess.
RB: You said you don’t think it’s regulated well … that the NCAA doesn’t have the manpower and the NFL doesn’t care about it enough. Why do you think that is?
BB: I think it’s too big. The NFL is worried about the NFL, and the NCAA is worried about the NCAA. Is it fair that Reggie Bush gets in trouble and now these kids at USC for the next two, three, four years are the ones that pay for it … and Pete Carroll goes and gets a job in Seattle and Reggie Bush wins a Super Bowl? At the end of the day, do they really care? Sure they’re a little upset about it, but it’s not changing their lives. Until you start to put a penalty on those guys into their future … and it's severe enough that it's going to affect their draft status or cost them millions later, it won’t matter.
RB: How much is on the athlete and how much is on the agent?
BB: Everyone is involved and everyone is responsible. These kids know what they’re doing is wrong. Agents and runners, they’re wrong. These college programs, are there assistant coaches and recruiting coordinators doing illegal stuff too? They’re doing stuff all the time. … No matter what, everyone is guilty to some extent.
RB: You try to position yourself above the fray with the approach you take at The Institute for Athletes. Do you feel like you get sucked back into the cesspool by association?
BB: I think because we’re termed “agent” we absolutely are looked at in a negative way because of what’s happened before us. … It’s a Catch-22. I love seeing this stuff because I want them to weed out all the people that are doing things wrong. But it is an uphill battle. I’m embarrassed to tell people I’m an agent. I don’t even like the word because so many agents fit the mold of the stereotype.
RB: Without naming names, do you have any horror stories about the worst of what goes on behind the scenes.
BB:  I’ve heard plenty of stories from agents, from players, from retired players. I kind of believe, and maybe I’m wrong, that it’s not as prevalent as it was 10-15 years ago. But then these types of things (like the investigations of the SEC schools) come out, and maybe I’m wrong.
RB: Ultimately will there be any changes? The coaches like Nick Saban are getting angry, but do they really want the system to legitimately change or are they just looking for someone to pin the blame on the larger problems in big-time college sports?
BB: That’s a good question. I don’t know. It’s probably a lot of lip service right now. But because of the way the story has evolved, I think the NCAA is going to look into it as thoroughly as possible. These players were somewhere. So how did they get there. Who paid for their hotel? Who paid for their rental car? There are questions that are going to need to be answered. But at the end of the day, from what I understand the committee that looks into it is six or seven people and they’re supposed to monitor the entire NCAA student-athlete body? It’s really not possible. It’s just hard to regulate all that. … But I do think the system needs to change.