Last night at MrSEC.com Headquarters, the ol’ TV was tuned in to watch the HBO “Real Sports” episode focusing on college athletes and their lack of pay last night. Interesting work. Better than I had expected when I first saw that both Billy Packer and Jason Whitlock would be joining Bryant Gumbel for an in-depth discussion of the college sports system.
Here are just a few thoughts on the show… including why Auburn folks should be worried:
1. The four former Tigers who claim that money had changed hands at Auburn — Stanley McClover, Troy Reddick, Chaz Ramsey and Raven Gray — seemed credible. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were telling the truth, but they did seem believeable. With many sports fans across the nation already thinking AU cheats (because of the Cam Newton story), the credibility of these players doesn’t help the Tigers’ cause.
But that’s the court of public opinion we’re talking about and that court has no real bearing on the Tiger football program. The NCAA court is the only one that matters.
2. Hundred-dollar handshakes go on in every major college town in the country. I have several friends who played ball in the Southeastern Conference. The majority of those guys say that, yes, they knew which boosters to turn to if they needed some meal money, some cash for a date, or even a vehicle. And we’re not necessarily talking Lexuses here, either. When a player is given the keys to a booster’s used truck, it’s still a violation. And that type of thing goes on all… the… time. There are restaurants where athletes get free meals. Bars where athletes get free admission. Heck, one former SEC footballer told me that in his naivete, he once reported himself to his coach for getting a free tanning bed session.
There’s no way to stop freebies or hundred-dollar handshakes. There’s also no easy way for the NCAA to track down the culprits and punish their schools. Boosters don’t often give receipts with their cash advances. For that reason, the bulk of the accusations made against Auburn — and other schools — will likely result in any real trouble. (On a sidenote, paying players wouldn’t wipe out this issue either. Someone will always try to do a little something extra for their gridiron and hoops heroes.)
3. The major concern for Auburn stems from one accusation and one accusation alone. Reddick claims that when he “started complaining and insinuating that I was ready to leave any day,” Auburn coaches sprung into action. One coach allegedly told Reddick that he had “some mail for you up in my office.”
Reddick says he “followed him up to his office and he gave me an envelope. I didn’t open it there, I walked out to my truck, took off. … It was about 500 dollars.”
Worse, Reddick claims he received cash-filled envelopes “two or three more times” that season and “it happened about six or seven times my senior year.”
And that’s the area of concern — if true — for Auburn. The NCAA will have a hard time proving hundred-dollar handshakes. But if an AU coach actually handed cash to a player once (or eight to 10 more times), then the school could really land in hot water. If Reddick tells NCAA investigators — who are sure to ask — which coach gave him money, then a full-scale investigation is likely to follow. That would suggest a systematic payment plan and that would override any statute of limitations defense Auburn might be hoping to hide behind. At that point, it would be Reddick’s word versus the claims of the coach. And the NCAA would then start digging to find other former Tigers who’ll say that they were paid by AU coaches, too.
Auburn fans can pooh-pooh HBO’s story, claim the chatty players have axes to grind, claim the players were paid for their stories (highly, highly doubtful, by the way) or even suggest this kind of thing goes on everywhere. But if a coach really handed cash to Reddick, this story isn’t going to have a happy ending.
5. While some sites are harping on the claim by Ramsey and Gray that one Auburn coach told his players to put football ahead of academics, we have a hard time believing that that practice exists only at Auburn. Does it help the Tigers’ reputation? No. But we don’t see that as a major issue. Many, many coaches would prefer their stars study their playbooks over their chemistry books. That goes all the way down to the high school level.
6. Never thought I’d say this, but Packer was the voice of reason on the show. While Gumbel and Whitlock talked about paying players and tearing down the system, Packer came armed with facts — most schools lose money on sports, two sports pay for all the other little sports, there would likely be no women’s sports at all if not for football/basketball revenue from the men, and not every athlete can be paid the same because of those aforementioned facts.
Everyone agrees the NCAA system isn’t perfect, but finding a new system isn’t as easy as tearing the old one down. Kudos to Packer.
7. Bernard Goldberg’s piece on paying players suffered one fatal flaw. For hypothetical purposes he proposed paying players 57% of the revenue made by their schools off of their sport (which is the percentage of revenue NFL and NBA players receive). Sounds good. Only not all schools make the same amount of money. Alabama and Texas make more money off of football, for example, than Boise State and Iowa State. In the current scholarship set-up, the folks at Boise State and Iowa State can at least compete with the Bamas and the Texases of the world. In a 57% pay model, just how many recruits would choose to sign with a smaller-revenue school? Players would be fighting to get into the biggest-revenue schools in order to drive up their own paydays.
8. The revelation that a number of NCAA officials make salaries of $300,000 or more was eye-opening. We hear a lot about the NCAA’s small enforcement staff (little more than 40 people total). That small staff requires the NCAA to use an “example” type system of discipline. If a school is ratted out and caught, they will be made an example of. If a coach lies or tampers with an investigation, he will be made an example of. The NCAA has no way to get ahead of the curve because it lacks an enforcement staff. There only means of prevention is to really make examples of those people they catch red-handed.
But someone on HBO’s show should have proposed this realistic plan: Cut the salaries of some of those highly-paid NCAA officials and use that money to increase the enforcement staff by 50-100%.
So who were the losers following HBO’s broadcast?
* Auburn University. The Tigers didn’t need more accusations and yet another scandal. Whether the claims of McClover, Reddick, et al are true or not, millions of people heard them last night. The NCAA heard them last night, too. And millions more people will read about them today.
* Tommy Tuberville. The issues discussed last night trace back to the Tuberville era on The Plains. He’ll be fielding a lot more questions about HBO’s report than he will Texas Tech’s spring drills in the coming days.
* Gene Chizik. Chizik was on Tuberville’s staff at the time of some of these alleged events. The NCAA might ask him a few questions about his first stop in Auburn. And if the NCAA can find proof that an assistant once gave Reddick cash, Chizik’s program could be spanked for crimes committed on his predecessor’s watch.
Auburn’s coach was angered by the report and called it “pathetic and pure garbage.” “That’s not who we are,” he said. “That’s not how our program is going to be run.”
Chizik also said: “It’s very sad to me that HBO is going to air something that, admittedly, they have no proof on anything. What is disturbing to me… they interviewed other former players that said the opposite, and they didn’t air (them).”
“When I was the defensive coordinator from 2002-04, all the allegations that are there are on this particular show, I can assure you I had no knowledge of any of that stuff.”
* The NCAA. No one likes the NCAA to begin with, so a report trumpeting the destruction of it will naturally be met with cheers. Of course, few people realize that the NCAA is made up of college administrators. The NCAA is college football and basketball. If they are the enemy, they’re appointed by the people they rule over.