Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Josh Luchs' story only helps agent issue
By Pat Forde
The reaction from many to the extraordinary Sports Illustrated confessional of former agent Josh Luchs seems to be a shoulder shrug and a roll of the eyes. Like we already knew it all.
Perhaps in our too-cool-to-be-surprised world, dismissing the story as a non-revelation is now customary. I think it's stupid.
What we have is a former agent putting his name out there and identifying which college football players he gave money to, when, how much, and why. Journalistically, you cannot ask for much more than that. If someone can show me a more solid story on how the agent game works, I'm eager to see it.
Was it a shock? No. Not for those of us who cover college athletics, not for those who work in college athletics, perhaps not even for most fans. But there is a difference between suspecting something and learning the real story.
Regardless of his motivations, Luchs pulled the inner workings of an oily business out of the shadows. He showed us how long it's been going on and how pervasive the problem is. (And as bad as it is in football, multiply it by 1,000 and you have college basketball.)
"This is unprecedented," said Rand Getlin of Synrgy Sports, a company that helps educate college athletes on their professional futures and an agent watchdog. "The impact of Luchs coming out now, when coupled with the the intense focus on agent issues throughout college athletics right now, won't be fully realized until much further down the line. Suffice it say, it's nothing short of monumental. No longer can anyone in a position of power stand in front of the cameras and act as if the issue is isolated to one school or another, or that it is any less pervasive than what has been exposed in that SI article."
Luchs says he spent a lot of years dealing money to a lot of college players -- many of whom never amounted to anything in the NFL. If those kinds of guys are on the take -- and have been for decades -- then you begin to understand what's going on with the can't-miss prospects.
The Reggie Bush escapades have greater context today. So does the debacle at North Carolina.
"A game changer," is how one person involved in the agent business characterized the story.
Let's hope that's the case, because clearly there is much in the game that needs changing. Blame can be assigned by the bushel.
Start with the principals in every rule-breaking transaction. Many agents do their jobs honorably, but they're sullied by the many who do not. Same with the players who take the cash -- they know the rules and don't care. Many have been on the take for so long -- some since well before college -- that it's second nature. Some will unashamedly use the users, as the story's opening anecdote about former Colorado defensive end Kanavis McGhee showed.
(That's where the Nick Saban portrayal of players as Snow White in the forest primeval loses its traction.)
But don't forget the institutions involved. Coaches who like to control every aspect of their players' lives fall back on plausible deniability when the mess occurs on their campuses. (Deniability left the building a long time ago in the case of North Carolina assistant John Blake; he was allegedly an active participant.) Athletic departments undermine their compliance offices, giving them neither enough staff nor enough clout to investigate and educate. State laws on the books to punish unscrupulous agents have largely been toothless. And the NFLPA has been largely laissez-faire when it comes to policing agents, which is one reason why so many players fire their agents or have money issues.
(The last point is why I'd argue this is not a victimless crime, as a friend of mine characterized it. Rogue agents often are bad agents, bad businessmen and untrustworthy stewards of a player's financial future.)
The situation has existed for a long time and will exist in the future -- it will never be eradicated. But the cleanup effort has momentum right now, and the NCAA is wielding the biggest broom.
For years, cynics have mocked NCAA enforcement. But ask the Tar Heels if they think the Agent, Gambling and Amateurism Activities department's work has been a joke. Thirteen players have been suspended for all or part of this season, scuttling hopes for a dark horse national championship campaign. It will be stunning if head coach Butch Davis is still in charge of the program at season's end. Athletic director Dick Baddour might be on the chopping block, too.
Ask Georgia if it enjoyed losing All-America wide receiver A.J. Green for four games to NCAA suspension. The Bulldogs were 1-3 when Green became eligible, their season ruined.
Ask former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant about the price he paid for lying to NCAA investigators. They terminated his college career before the middle of last season.
Ask USC how much fun it will be operating under heavy sanctions for the next two years due to the Bush and O.J. Mayo agent violations.
"These past three months speak for themselves," Getlin said. "And with President [Mark] Emmert taking the reigns in Indianapolis, I'm extremely confident in the NCAA's commitment to enforcing their regulations."
The NFLPA is talking a good game about cracking down on rogue agents. Several state officials have pledged to take a more active role in enforcing their laws -- starting in North Carolina, where the secretary of state's office is investigating the situation in Chapel Hill.
"De[Maurice] Smith [head of the NFLPA] has been doing a terrific job of championing the players' cause thus far," Getlin said. "Yeah, they have the CBA to deal with, but I think they'll step to the plate to a much greater extent than they ever have in the past given all of the scrutiny currently on the agent industry right now. Their hand is being forced by public sentiment to act quickly and decisively in helping to clean things up and I'm optimistic that they will answer the call.
"As for the states and feds: I'm hopeful, but I'll believe it when I see it."
In sum, there seems to be a rising tide of collective deterrence.
There is more attention being paid to the agent-player relationship than ever before. More scrutiny. More criticism of bad agents. More punishment for greedy players. More ramifications for schools that let agent-player relationships grow in the shadows instead of helping players make intelligent agent decisions in the light of day.
The Josh Luchs story can only help.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.