College Football: No Room for Agents or Payments

Mike KlineAnalyst IJuly 21, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 04:  Reggie Bush #5 of the USC Trojans stands in the end zone after scoring a 26 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the BCS National Championship Rose Bowl Game against the Texas Longhorns at the Rose Bowl on January 4, 2006 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Perhaps ignorance is bliss, and the ills of college athletics should simply be overlooked.

The latest round of NCAA investigations into various athletes at some prominent college programs is shedding light on what even the most casual observer has known for years—agents are a big problem for college athletes.

When the University of North Carolina has players under investigation who are facing potential season-long suspensions for taking benefits from agents, you know you are having some problems.

Of course, it has been a staple in all of the big-time programs for decades. Any program is susceptible as long as they have talent capable of playing at the next level.

North Carolina is finding out the hard way what programs like USC, which was recently hit with significant NCAA violations, have known for some time.

Fortunately, the most respectable sport on UNC's campus—basketball—has not had to deal with any suspicions of wrongdoing. But, the high hopes for what many are predicting a top 20, or even top 15 season have been tempered.

To say Marvin Austin showed incredibly poor judgment in tweeting and posting pictures about a trip to Florida that allegedly has ties to sports agents is an understatement.

But, when you realize kids like Austin are simply being offered more than they've ever had in their lives, can you really blame them for taking it?

The simple answer is no, but most kids and certainly all schools should know the rules by now.

It is easy to blame the NCAA for being too harsh. After all, it does overlook things for long periods of time and then acts as if suddenly certain issues have become major problems.

The problem with this situation is clear. The NCAA, the colleges, and athletes are at fault. The solutions, however, are not as clear.

Agents have no place in college athletics. Paying athletes, a controversial solution thrown out by some, also has no place.

The reasons for paying players are easy to understand. Athletes make the schools a ridiculous amount of money, so why shouldn't they share in the profits?

For one, they are getting a free education, whatever that is worth these days. How many college athletes go pro? How many end up with serious injuries? How many are here today and a distant memory tomorrow? 

Without at least something to fall back on, namely a degree, many of these kids don't have much of a future beyond the name they earned for themselves while playing football or basketball.

In many cases, that won't carry them far.

When you really think about it, though, these kids are paid with a free education, room, food, clothes, and a chance to play a sport on the highest "true" amateur level left—if you can even still call it that.

If you calculate how much free stuff they get legally for being athletes at a big-time program, then you are hard pressed to feel sorry for them. Where the NCAA should make an exception for these kids, is to allow them to get a job and earn some money the old-fashioned way.

Of course, that process has been tainted as well by boosters who pretend to get kids jobs and pay them, but then the kid never works.

Paying athletes for being students is a slippery slope and a last-ditch effort to keep the best athletes playing at the college level.

The NBA's age limit helped establish the one-and-done culture that has become the foundation of college basketball. Who knows what paying players a salary will lead to at the college level?

The NFL has a longer time to wait and in very few, if any, cases is a player ready to go pro after only a year or less in college.

But, if you begin to pay these athletes, what will be the long-term repercussions? Will you have holdouts if they don't get paid enough? Will you have to worry about collective bargaining agreements?

If you pay college athletes, who’s to say they won't hire agents themselves?

Of course you could set a "salary," but who’s to say there won't be those coming into the mix to argue for higher salaries?

When a kid used to go to college, it was to get an education. If they were good enough, they would also play sports. They were called student-athletes.

Those days are long gone and there is no going back to it—a move toward paying these athletes to play for a college would kill the college concept.

This dilemma has no easy solution. The NCAA and colleges have shown very little ability to deal with the problems of money and agents tainting the big money-making sports.

Penalties typically occur long after the violations have been committed and the guilty parties have moved on. So the schools and the current players who may have had no interaction or weren't even in high school at the time are left to deal with the repercussions.

And while the agents could get into some trouble, the athletes move on as if nothing happened. They will never be held accountable.

Just ask current USC football and basketball players how that works.

Perhaps it is naive to think the kids at your favorite college are truly interested in an education, but again maybe ignorance really is bliss.

No one has a solution that is perfect, it is just hard to fathom paying the kids will cure all the ills that currently exist, and it will probably just create even more problems.