But Our Sporting Heroes Don’t Have Integrity

Josh Luchs’ pretensions of morality are mostly chimaeric - after giving $2,500 to University of Colorado linebacker Kanavis McGhee, he reassured himself that he “would be helping Kanavis out.” In reality, he was helping no one but himself. Since becoming an agent at age 20, he has used financial lures and incentives to hook over 60 NFL players that he represented. In the October 18 issue of Sports Illustrated, he told all, publicly exposing sordid details of recruiting tactics used by agents and NCAA college programs.

That these allegations came without surprise is worrying, yet even more so is how pervasive this mindset is in amateur athletics – from high school and club teams to university – and how little repercussion athletes face.

There is a large school of thought within the athletic community that the NCAA is a cartel of sorts – Canadian NBA player Steve Nash even wrote a university paper on the subject at Santa Clara. This philosophy tries to rationalize the acceptance of money and other incentives given to players with two common arguments: that the NCAA makes millions of dollars off of the athletes, while the athletes make none, and by committing themselves to their athletic teams, they don’t have time to support their family back home, often a burden on low-income families. Why shouldn’t the players get some cash? 

While these arguments seem valid, neither truly is. NCAA universities furnish over 7,000 athletes per year with full-ride scholarships in Division 1 men’s basketball alone. At approximately $33,000 a year, per athlete at a private college, the NCAA seems warranted in recording a profit, considering they provide athletes with food, shelter, books and education, in exchange for playing a sport.

By way of increased salary from their (free) college degree, or future millionaire status for those who make the pros, it’s fair to say that scholarship student athletes are sitting on a goldmine. When Luchs states how little he actually pays the players – ranging from a couple hundred dollars a month to lump sums of $10,000 – accepting these “rewards” seems like risking too much for too little. It’s much like selling the goldmine for a hundredth of its value because you’d rather have some money now, then work and get more later.

This would be the case if players were held responsible for their actions, but unfortunately it is not. Two notable examples are Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush.

Rose has been accused of having someone else write his SATs for him. As these are the scores that got him into the University of Memphis, that’s a major issue. Bush won the Heisman trophy for best football player in the nation and was snatched up second overall in the NFL draft. In 2007, sports marketer Lloyd Lake sued Bush, claiming he provided Bush and his family $291,000 in money and goods.

How were these players punished? Bush, still under investigation by the NCAA, recently forfeited his Heisman trophy, although he still has not admitted wrongdoing. When Rose wheedles NBA stardom out of a university career he didn’t deserve, and Bush enjoys thousands of dollars during college – and they don’t face punishment for it – what can possibly dissuade other athletes from following in their footsteps? Unless the professional sports leagues like the NBA and NFL institute policies to curb this themselves, there is little that can be done once the athletes leave college.

Far from trammeling the blatant cheating, Luchs mentions in the Sports Illustrated article several decisions made by the NFL and the NCAA. Both reek of blatant disregard and flat out pandering for the issue of monetary incentives and other NCAA violations.

“In 1999,” says Luchs, “the [NFL Player’s Association] had changed a rule to say that players who were found to have taken money from agents while in college would not have to pay the money back.” Not only did this allow players to take money without fear of litigation from agents, but now “Players, parents, everyone put their hands out because there were no ramifications.” On the NCAA’s part, they have a four-year statute of limitations on violations. An editor’s note on the article mentions that because of this “Neither the schools nor the players in this story are likely to face NCAA scrutiny.”

Frankly, trying to convince professional sports leagues to affect their earnings by punishing players for NCAA violations would not be a successful venture. There will always be men like Luchs, all we can hope is that the illusion of wealth is not enough to purchase an athletes integrity. Sadly this is uncommon. As Luchs recalls, “I put $10,000 cash in front of Kansas's Dana Stubblefield, and he wouldn't take it. I tried to pay UCLA's JJ Stokes and USC's Keyshawn Johnson, and they said, ‘no.’ But for every kid who didn't take the money, there were dozens who called me and asked to get paid.”

 //Mac Fairbairn
Opinions Editor

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