Sealver Siliga should be preparing for his senior year at the University of Utah.
Instead, he is an undrafted free agent in a year when there is the threat of an NFL lockout by team owners.
He deserved more.
I blame the agent who somehow convinced Siliga, the former Copper Hills star, that his very best move was to turn pro after last year's Las Vegas Bowl.
Siliga made a decision to forgo his senior year at Utah and put his name in for the NFL draft back in January. It was his decision. He signed with an agent.
Of course, this is an exercise in hindsight on my part, but it was a mistake. It opens the door to examine the issue of underclassmen and agents.
I'm not alone in this second-guessing. Members of Utah's coaching staff, some members of the media and many folks in the community who care deeply for him also believe it was premature for Siliga to come out early.
Siliga wasn't rated especially high, and this lockout issue made it very risky.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham tip-toed around the issue of Siliga's early departure from his squad when it was announced. Reporters pressed the coach for comment during winter and spring. Whittingham didn't criticize the move, and that was noble for the head coach. Every coach wants his players to get a crack at the next level of play.
That doesn't mean it didn't fit right with Whittingham or coordinator Kalani Sitake that a young player left before his incubation was finished.
In the coaching profession, you take on the roles of counselor, father, coach, confidant and adviser. But players still make their own choices.
Agents, however, may not always have the best interests of players in mind. Their deal is first and foremost a business acquisition. College coaches can be accused of the same, but in this case, I agree with Utah's policy. The coaching staff does not like agents around their players and even banned all agents during pro day this spring.
They want a strong message sent to underclassmen: Stay away from agents.
Utah is following the lead of other major universities in distancing their athletes from agents.
In this case, Siliga would have greatly benefited from playing experience in the Pac-12 this fall. He'd have served as a team captain and enhanced his skills. The new Pac-12 TV deal would've delivered him great exposure that would have padded his impressive resume. He could have continued to lead a loaded Ute front defensive line while possibly garnering all-conference honors.
And, in my opinion, actually be drafted in 2012.
Siliga had to balance this and the ideal of getting closer to earning a degree with the real risk of serious injury during his senior year at Utah, which could possibly jeopardize his ability to earn money as a pro.
I don't dismiss that conflict as simple.
BYU's John Walsh made that same decision back in 1992, and when the Bengals drafted him in the seventh round instead of the first round, as projected by ESPN's top analyst, he landed hard. And out of the league.
Walsh turned out to be overrated.
There were 254 college players taken in last week's NFL draft.
I think Siliga is better than some of them. But this wasn't the year. With a lockout possibility looming, it became a bigger risk. His Utah eligibility was worth more than that chance and gamble.
He went undrafted.
The ACC's defensive player of the year, linebacker Mark Herzlich, didn't get drafted.
It wasn't to be in 2011.
His agent didn't sell it.
And for Siliga, nothing like a senior season in the Pac-12 would have sold it any better.
Aside from that, think of the experience of a senior year playing for a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Free agency isn't a bad way to go, but it isn't always a lucrative prospect. It is a road teammate Zane Taylor and BYU safety Andrew Rich must take. But this year, with this bargaining issue, a possible lockout or shortened season, free agents will be cheated the most.
Siliga deserved more.
What if he had just waited?
It's a situation that has college football coaches across the land hot — the infringement of sports agents preying on their players.
This past year, with flareups at Alabama, North Carolina and other schools, it became headline news. It ultimately led to the suspension of some Tar Heel players and was the foundation of USC's major NCAA violations and penalties issued a year ago in the Reggie Bush case.
I am not inferring Siliga or his agent did anything wrong or broke the rules. But the access to an agent changed the landscape for Siliga — and I say it wasn't good for him or the Utes.
Coming out early worked for teammate Brandon Burton. But it never was good for the D-tackle.
Remember Nick Saban's rant last summer? It was Saban's Alabama program that suspended All-American tackle Andre Smith for the 2008 Sugar Bowl with Utah when Smith refused to answer questions about his involvement with an agent.
Said Saban, "I'm about ready for college football to say, 'Let's just throw the NFL out. Don't let them evaluate players. Don't let them talk to players. Let them do it at the combine.' If they are not going to help us, why should we help them?
"Right now, agents are screwing it up. They are taking the eligibility of players. It's not right that those players do the wrong thing. We have a great education process here. We have a full-time worker who meets with players and their families and does everything else."
Access to players by agents while their eligibility remains intact is a dangerous thing. Remember the Sports Illustrated piece that chronicled the confessions of an agent out of control?
That wasn't the case here at all. But still, it can be an issue anywhere.
Sealver Siliga needed Utah, and the Utes needed Siliga in 2011.
It is not to be.
And that is sad.
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