By this point, I’m sure many of you have read the Sports Illustrated interview with former NFL agent Josh Luchs. If you haven’t, it’s a fascinating read.
Over the past six months, the NCAA’s vigilance on the relationship between student-athletes and agents has tightened. The investigation regarding illegal benefits received by former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush brought on a two-year postseason ban and a loss of 30 scholarships for the Trojans.
A little over one month later, the University of North Carolina found itself in a similar investigation and it’s possible that the Tar Heels program could suffer a fate similar to that of USC.
According to Luchs, “agents have been giving kids money for decades,” but only recently has there been a price to pay. As you can imagine, there are a lot of questions on how to deal with this problem. Who gets the blame and the penalties? Who monitors the student-athletes? The list goes on. After all, it’s a large subject to tackle.
At least some responsibility, if not most, has to lie at the university level with presidents and athletic directors. North Carolina State AD Debbie Yow, who has been an outspoken activist on the agent problem, believes there’s education already in place to warn student-athletes about the dangers of illegally dealing with agents.
“There’s education left and right. There’s abundant information. It’s not a matter of education, it’s a matter of temptation,” Yow told CFT. “It takes tremendous character to say ‘no’ to an agent and go to the university compliance office.”
But responsibility is a two-way street.
“You need to be ready to follow through,” explains Yow. “It’s the responsibility of the administration to look and see who’s getting into games for free.”
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck agrees. “There’s adequate education available for student-athletes, but we can’t ever do enough. We need to follow those [NCAA] rules to a tee. It’s very important that we make sure our players understand that agents don’t follow NCAA rules.”
Ignoring NCAA rules is something to which Luchs openly admits, but justifies “that the schools and the NCAA were making money while the players, many of whom came from poor families, weren’t getting anything but an education, which many of them didn’t take seriously.“
Upon hearing that statement, Luck responded bluntly that, “Mr. Luchs is ignorant. He clearly doesn’t understand the importance of higher education or the NCAA.”
“There are a number of student-athletes who star in high-profile sports, but that number is minuscule,” elaborates Yow, who brings up a good point. While Luchs dealt with star players 100 percent of the time, potential pro’s may make up only 5 percent of a university’s student-athletes. For the rest, a paid education is priceless.
It’s also worth more than the $500 or $1,000 in gifts often given by agents. At NC State, student-athletes can apply for financial assistance with the Student Opportunity Fund, which provides assistance for travel, food, necessary purchases and more.
Say what you will about the NCAA, but the tagline “Most of us will be going pro in something other than sports” has validity to it.
However, Yow is not completely against star athletes benefiting from their success, a la Georgia’s A.J. Green. “If a jersey of a particular student-athlete is selling well, then a small percentage of each sale can go to an escrow and then, upon graduation or leaving the university (whichever comes first), the kid gets it.”
Ultimately, according to Yow, there are two scenarios in which student-athletes get involved with agents: they give in to temptation, or they receive benefits without knowing it’s an agent or a runner.
As far as the first scenario, the responsibility must lie with the university to educate the student-athlete about the dangers of dealing with agents, as well as with the student-athletes themselves to decline the benefits. If a student-athlete is “duped” into a fancy dinner or a concert, knowing who to talk to and how to handle the situation can go a long way between reporting an incident and getting ruled permanently ineligible.
As we’ve seen in the past six months, student-athletes and their respective universities are beginning to find that out the hard way.