Have you ever tried to train a hippo?
They combine great strength and size with a remarkable stubbornness that makes them virtually impossible to train. Sounds kind of like the NCAA.
The power of the NCAA is held over everything touching college sports from media empires to casual fans sitting in the stands watching games on the weekend. They are powerful and really stubborn in how they approach the challenges that confront their member schools today.
For decades they have investigated school after school for the same infractions, found them guilty and at the end of the day the problems are still there.
At some point you would think the beast would learn their methods don’t work and come up with new ways to deal with those who want to ignore the rules.
Here is a fact.
If the NCAA was really serious about ending wide spread cheating they could get it done. One reality that has to be considered is maybe they don’t want to ever really solve the problem.
Currently there are a number of schools who have players implicated in issues with agents attempting to impress potential clients with perks and cash that threaten the amateur status of the young men involved.
It was almost 20 years ago that Alabama’s Antonio Langham led the Tide to probation with his agent dealings, and just a few weeks ago that USC was hit in the nose because of Reggie Bush’s involvement with suitors who wanted to serve as his representation.
Given this track record it is time for the NCAA to start dealing with this problem in new ways.
Over the coming days we will examine actions that could be implemented if the NCAA is really looking to achieve results and not just continue to use an occasional high profile investigation as an opportunity to try and get everyone’s attention
Today we will consider the role of players in the problem and ways to address what can be done to reduce the odds they will yield to the offers agents place in front of them. Additional articles will look at the role of the NCAA, member schools, summer tournaments and agents in this ongoing drama.
First the good news. Most college basketball and football players don’t take money from agents and boosters.
They know the rules and play within them. These players feel an obligation to follow the rules because they don’t want to let down their teammates and/or their parents raised them to do things the right way.
Most players also don’t have a choice to in the matter. Agents ignore the guys who are not in that top 1 percent of players who will make the leap from college sports to the pro leagues.
Agents are looking to secure relationships with players who will help them earn a significant payday at some point down the road. They start building relationships while these kids are still in high school many times and continue their recruiting activities through the college years.
These guys make football and basketball recruiters look almost lazy with their efforts to obtain a signature.
Don’t believe for a minute that players don’t know the rules. They know them, but choose to ignore them.
It is a part of the “above it all” culture we have created for high profile athletes. They simply choose to ignore them because they want something. They want the cash, perks, parties or other goodies put in front of them by agents and their runners.
The first key to stopping them from reaching their hands in the cookie jar is to make sure the penalty is stiff enough so they will understand the risk is just not worth the reward.
The second is to make sure they have enough information to understand the role an agent will play in their career and what is appropriate behavior to expect from a reputable one.
Starting from where college sports is right now here are some solutions the NCAA could enact to put muscle behind their calls for reform in how to deal with the agent issue.
Pick a two week period in September. Every player who has dealt with an agent can come clean with no penalty at all.
They have to reveal cash received, promises made, perks provided and any other benefit provided to them, family members or friends. This gives every player a one-time opportunity to wipe the slate clean.
Anything they were provided must be returned, and any cash received has to be put on a schedule for repayment. There has to be a restitution plan established.
Take away eligibility
From the date the amnesty plan is announced, and forward, any recruit or player who accepts cash, perks, promises or anything from an agent will lose all of his college eligibility.
Period. There are no appeals, no second chances, and no extenuating circumstances. All eligibility for athletic participation at an NCAA school is gone.
Power beyond eligibility
If a student-athlete takes anything from an agent make him liable for civil penalties based on his earnings after leaving school. When a school is placed on probation for these players actions they suffer an economic harm.
Our society does not find it reasonable that you cause financial damage without suffering consequences.
The language to implement this should be standard in all letters-of-intent and action be brought by the NCAA to keep individuals schools from ignoring the rule.
The above will provide penalties with teeth, while not being overly complicated. Making compliance easier is something the NCAA should have a powerful task force always working on.
Penalties alone are not sufficient. Schools need to develop programs to educate players on the services to expect from agents and what are ethical forms of behavior.
Find retired professional football players who can come in and give objective advice to players on how to pick a person to provide them representation. Get reputable agents involved in the education process. Involve financial advisers and lawyers in the program so players with pro potential at least know what some basic warning signs would be to look for when dealing with prospective agents.
The players being courted have the ability to make the whole agent issue disappear if they could just find the strength to say no when the temptation is in front of them. That is not going to happen, and so the only choice is for the NCAA to put rules in place that will discourage bad choices by impressionable young people.
Beyond the players being accountable there are steps the adults can take as well. We will look at some of those next.