The biggest sports story of the week has been Sports Illustrated’s piece on Josh Luchs, the agent who admitted to paying more than 30 NCAA football players money from 1990-1996.
Every reporter, analyst, talking head and person with a forum has weighed in. Paying players is a major recruiting violation. It’s also a topic that many sports and non-sports fans have vastly different opinions on.
With situations like this, the question that inevitably comes up is who’s to blame? Is it the coaches for either not knowing, turning a blind eye, or in some cases even allowing this type of thing to go on? Is it the colleges, who make billions of dollars off of student-athletes, but refuse to offer anything to the students but scholarships? Is it the agents, who manipulate and use these players when they’re young, in hopes of cashing in on their future success? Is it the players, who know they’re breaking rules, but still have their hands out?
What everyone’s now debating is how to stop agents from giving players money. I think there’s a simple way to solve this problem.
Colleges should pay the players a stipend.
Obviously paying players is not going to be a popular viewpoint with some. The common argument is these players get to go to school and get an education for free. Players save tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars in tuition and room and board fees. Why should they get more money on top of that?
Collegiate sports — especially football and basketball — are full-time jobs for a student. Players are expected to attend training sessions, practices, meetings and games…all while balancing a full college workload. They’re expected to travel all over the country in-season. Being a “student-athlete” is a full-time job. It doesn’t leave much time to get a part-time job on the side.
College football and basketball make millions of dollars for schools. Coaches bring in six and seven figure contracts based on the performances of 19 and 20-year-old kids. The schools argue how important getting an education is, yet college basketball players miss weeks of school in March and April to play in the NCAA tournament.
If a player gets caught taking money, he’s suspended. His school is often sanctioned, resulting in loss of scholarships, and meaning other kids won’t have the opportunity to attend that school. All the while the agents simply move on to the next kid they can buy. As agent Harold “Doc” Daniels said in the story, “We ain’t members of the NCAA. We didn’t agree to follow these rules.”
This week Luchs was interviewed on sports radio shows, and one of the most eye-opening things he kept saying was that he wasn’t giving all of these guys tens of thousands of dollars. When you think of college players getting paid, most think of the Reggie Bush-like cases. But Luchs biggest “whale” was Ryan Leaf, who he said he would pay “monthly with money orders, ranging from $300 to $700.”
Some of the players used the money simply to buy groceries, or do any fun, harmless things most college students do all the time (like attend concerts). After running the story, writer George Dohrmann contacted the players named by Luchs for comment. He wrote:
“Several of them, including former USC receiver R. Jay Soward, said they took the payments because their scholarship didn’t provide enough money for rent and food. “I would do it again,” Soward said. “I have four sons, and if somebody offered my son money in college and it meant he didn’t have to be hungry, I would tell him to take it.”
By giving athletes a stipend of say, $400 a month, many of these athletes wouldn’t feel a need to take money from an agent. What can’t be forgotten is that many of these athletes come from difficult backgrounds, where they can’t get money from family to help while at school.
That’s in no way to absolve them entirely from what they did. There are plenty of students with similar backgrounds that weren’t blessed with the athletic talent to play a Division I sport. Those students aren’t able to get the same benefits and handouts afforded to an athlete.
That also doesn’t absolve blame from some of the families and friends who used the athlete’s talents to benefit themselves. Their actions directly harmed the athletes, the school, and college sports in general.
It’s probably impossible to stop agents from giving money to players though. It’s been going on for decades, and with the amount of money that’s at stake, you’ll never convince all athletes not to put their hand out, and you’ll never convince an agent to not do sleazy things to gain a better chance of signing said athlete.
If the NCAA is serious about making progress and trying to fix this problem, the players need to be compensated.
If not, then all this story was, was an interesting look into what it’s like to be an agent. That ultimately won’t stir any change.