Steven Godfrey of SBNation penned an extraordinary long-form piece titled "Meet the Bag Man: How to buy college football players, in the words of the man who delivers the money." It was a striking expose in which Godfrey talked at length with an unnamed "bag man" about the standards and practices when it comes to money flowing into the pockets of college football players in the SEC.
In the piece Godfrey publicized the underground culture that insiders would never dare discuss with outsiders. Simply put, he gave readers a look at the topics that college football players really talk about. Whether it is recruits comparing notes about the "perks" at certain schools or former players recalling the "help" that came out of nowhere, fans got an inside view of what it looks like from the other side. Not message board rumors. Not disgruntled players hoping to bring someone down. Not a coach reporting another coach because he lost a recruiting battle. No, this was an unbridled look at how the money changes hands and, more importantly, the way it flows from one area to another.
Godfrey has sparked his own news event, including an appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show and an "Ask Me Anything" with Reddit scheduled. His facts are undeniable, but the morality of it all is an interesting element worth delving into and examining. Undoubtedly, the topic of "How to buy college football players" will leave a bad taste in some folks' mouths. However, as Godfrey showed, it is far more than just about big money and throwing it around at stud players. It's a delicate ecosystem of funding, relationships and hopes of upward mobility. An ecosystem where against the rules is not synonymous with bad. Where it is a facet of the business structure, and not necessarily a cause for outrage.
Who really gets hurt if, as Godfrey mentions, a "bag man" gives a recruit money to fix the family tractor?
Certainly, the bag men, coaches and schools want to win, but on the players' side, winning is rivaled by family stability, simply going to college and having a relatively normal collegiate experience.
Those goals align. Programs need talent. Talents need school, and football is often their way in. It is that synergy that creates a near-symbiotic relationship between the two sides. And relationship is key, because more than money, both sides have to grow to trust the other for the preliminary seed to grow.
Meanwhile, the judgment from the outside is real. Non-participants discussing rules and glorifying amateurism. Of course it's better to let that 5-star's family tractor go unfixed than it is to help his family and reap the benefits. Surely, giving that 4-star's mom a better job to make School A more attractive is poor form compared to allowing her to spin her wheels to make ends meet.
At least that is what those bound to the NCAA structure believe.
Luckily, for those involved, the NCAA structure is not a moral barometer. Getting caught is bad, but offering the help and keeping it off the books is acceptable and tends to benefit the kids, all while sometimes leading to championships.