So it turns out all of this hand-wringing about paying players was for naught. At this rate, within a few weeks it seems we will have likely learned that every college football player of note *is* getting paid. Problem solved.
OK, a little more seriously…
Sports Illustrated is rolling out a much-hyped five part report alleging major rules violations in the Oklahoma State football program, including direct cash payments to players based on performance, money for no-show jobs, academic improprieties and arranged sexual favors. Yahoo! sports is reporting that several SEC players, including star former Alabama offensive lineman DJ Fluker received cash payments from agents over the past couple of years while they were still in school. Last week, an unsealed warrant revealed that former UNC wide receiver Greg Little had gotten more than $20,000 in cash from an agent while he was a player at Chapel Hill.
Anyone who is paying attention knows this is only the tip of the iceberg, which has led to shoulder shrugging in some corners. But among the reasons stories like this matter is that we are still operating under a set of NCAA rules that disallows players from selling their own freakin’ autographs and, speaking of Oklahoma State, resulted in the suspension of a player for almost an entire season because he worked out at the home of a former NFL player (OK, yes, he lied to the NCAA about this crime of the century, but still). Among the consequences of pretending to be something you are not, in institutional terms, is the likelihood of widespread corruption.
You pretend to care about things like education and the amateur ideal, when in reality you just want to bring guys to campus who can help you win games and make you money, then it’s not much of a leap to academic shortcuts and fraudulent courses to keep players eligible and cash benefits and other goodies to players to keep them happy and keep the recruiting train rolling through your campus. The hypocrisy is bad enough. But what’s often forgotten is that except for the few players who will actually go on to earn big money in the NFL, many of the players are ultimately short changed. Because the university never brought them to campus to give them an education, they were never provided with the resources necessary to allow them take advantage of what universities have to offer. Many end up no better off than had they never gone to college, and they’re suffering significant health problems to boot.
As the New York Times’ Joe Nocera has proposed, the NCAA and its member institutions ought to be compelled to meet some minimum obligations (including lifetime health insurance) to the athletes it recruits to help sustain the lucrative college sports entertainment empire. Or as my friend and colleague Mary Willingham has argued, we could establish learning academies that would take seriously the promise to provide everyone we bring to college campus a meaningful and usable education.
It would be nice if something useful came out of this parade of at-this-point expected but nevertheless blatantly fraudulent big time collegiate sports enterprise.
By the way, how come ESPN isn’t breaking any of these stories?
Update: I mistakenly wrote that Fluker was a D-lineman in the original post.