I’ve heard both sides of the argument with regard to the Reggie Bush situation.
There’s one side that says “throw the book at those cheaters” and there are those who say “a kid’s gonna take the money or the car or the house if someone offers it to him”.
In Bush’s case, he took all three, most likely: cash, car, house.
He knew it was wrong. All college athletes who cheat know it’s wrong. And the coaches and administrators who orchestrate and enable the cheating know it’s wrong, too.
Let’s get a few things out on the table so we have a level playing field to discuss cheating in college sports.
We’ll take a “typical” Division I athletic program as we make this assessments and comparisons. There are roughly 500 or so student-athletes at a big-time school. 80 or so of those athletes are football players. That leaves 420 or thereabouts to comprise the other 20-25 sports teams.
Of those 500 students who play sports, it’s fair to say that at least 90% of them are on some sort of scholarship, either full or partial.
But of those 90%, probably only 15% have a chance to play their chosen sport professionally.
So when we are talking about cheating in college sports and the individual schools who are willing to do whatever it takes to get that special athlete, it’s fair to note that a large majority of those kids aren’t cheating…and that the kids who ARE cheating are all doing it as a prelude to getting paid for real anyway.
It’s the “special” player, the one that EVERY school wants, who gets the advantage of money-under-the-table, the car with the quadraphonic Blaupunkt (anytime you work in a Bull Durham reference, you do it…) or the house in Malibu.
One of the biggest problems with college sports today as it relates to schools cheating is this: Kids consider it a badge of honor to cheat, or to circumvent the rules, or to “get a deal”. Only the best of the best are good enough to warrant cheating on their behalf. If you’re not good enough to have the school slip you 10k or put you up in a nice apartment somewhere or give you “wheels” to drive around, you’re not the best-of-the-best.
And because it’s such an honor to have a school cheat to get you and keep you – and make you happy – kids can’t EVER keep their mouths shut. It’s akin to the girl in high school who agrees to have sex with you. Afterwards she says, “please don’t tell anyone about this…”. You agree, of course, at that moment. Then it dawns on you: “What good is having sex with you if I can’t brag about it to my friends?”
What good is it to have the school fawn over you and cheat for you if you’re not allowed to show it off?
So because kids can’t keep a secret…and because it’s fairly obvious when a kid comes from a rundown part of town and he’s suddenly driving a new Lexus or living in a $1500 a month penthouse…the word almost always gets out.
It should be noted here that not every Division I athletic program cheats. There are schools with impeccable records. There are coaches who have gone years and years and years without an NCAA blemish on their resume.
But college athletics is littered with cheaters. And when they’re caught, there’s a defense mechanism in place for all of them. The administrators of said schools – who only care about the football team winning and putting people in the stands – are far too busy actually running the university to pay attention to who is driving what car or staying downtown in an apartment they could never afford on their own. Their excuse is simple: “I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes…” The athletic coaches who decide to initiate the cheating do so for one reason and one reason only: Winning. I’ve met a lot of coaches in my life — professional and college — and the one common thing they all have is that they’d rather eat a box of worms than lose a game. They’re all paid to win. Winning consumes them. Getting the best players – as any coach will tell you – always gives you a leg-up on the opposition. Coaches know this: “I can’t win without good players”.
The best players cheat at “School A” because they’d also cheat at “School B” or “School C” or anywhere else they could cut the best deal.
And when the best players (and in college football, as an example, there are probably no more than 300 “elite” players available every year…that’s a staggeringly low number) are all wanted by the same 150 schools in the country, there’s not much pie to go around.
Coaches look at it like this: You get yourself two REALLY top-level players every year, you’re going to be decent. Get three of them, you’ll be pretty good. Get four and you might compete for your conference title. Go out and get 5-7 of them and you can beat anyone in the country.
That’s how cheating STARTS. “If I can go from having two REALLY good players to having seven of them…the world is my oyster.”
The cheating only multiplies once the kid shows up at school and sees just how much burden is placed on him both on and off the field. At first, the student-athlete is proud to “be on scholarship”. After year one, once he realizes how much money the school makes off of athletics, he (or she) comes to believe they’re being underpaid — or in this case, undercompensated — for their services.
I’ve contended for a long time now that college kids on scholarship place little to no value on the worth of their “free ride” because they have zero idea what it really costs to run a college, run an athletic program and run the team they play for every year.
They see the bottom-line number — $140,000 for four years, say, at Kentucky — but fail to take into account that some people actually DO fork over that much money to attend their school. When you don’t pay anything for something, it has little to no value. College athletes take their proverbial free-ride and never really consider the hard-cost figures associated with the school handing over an athletic scholarship.
And that, frankly, is the school’s fault.
Kids take these scholarships and treat them like they’re free tickets to the zoo. They don’t know anything about the real business of college sports and who gets paid and what it costs to fly the whole team to Houston and what insurance costs and who pays for that knee surgery you’re going to have in your senior year when you get hurt in practice.
College athletes don’t know any of that because no one educates them on it. They’re on campus to win games. And go to class. Hopefully.
I’m fortunate in this area because I once ran a sports organization. I sold $500,000 in corporate sponsorships in 1995, for example. I know what it’s like to sit down with a decision maker from Budweiser or Coca Cola or Papa John’s and ask them for $50,000 to sponsor the team. I was in charge of a $700,000 player payroll and a $400,000 staff payroll. I know what it’s like to have the bookkeeper come in on a Tuesday and say, “Payroll is coming up this Friday. We need $57,000 to meet it — and we only have $51,000 in the bank.” I know what it’s like to call the owner of the team and have to ask him to wire $25,000 to me so we can meet payroll and other anticipated expenses. And I know what it’s like to have a player come to me and complain about flying to Louisville and taking a bus to Cincinnati instead of flying directly into Cincinnati for a game…and then having to explain that it costs about $4,000 LESS to do it MY way…and because we have payroll to meet this Friday, I think I’ll save the $4k and we’ll fly right to Louisville, thank you very much.
My experience makes it much easier for me to discuss things like cheating in college sports and this “get it while you can” revolution that athletes seem to embrace at the college level.
The truth of the matter? Sports is designed for everyone to get rich except the fans. If done right, every person along the way makes more money. If the football team wins, the University President can strike a better deal for him or herself. The athletic director gets a better contract. The coach can buy a better house. The players on scholarship get treated like kings because they can throw, catch and run. The fans (and sponsors) pay the freight and everyone gets rich. Or, occasionally, MORE rich.
But college kids don’t understand that their wealth isn’t tied into money…it’s tied into their future and the value of that $140,000 in education they signed up for in the summer of their final year of high school.
And do you know why they don’t understand it? Because no one has explained it to him/her.
Ask a student athlete at Alabama this question: “For that road game at LSU, would you rather fly commercial, show up at the airport 90 minutes ahead of time, go through the whole security checkpoint stuff, jam your way into a coach seat next to some guy who wants to talk to you about his fishing trip on the gulf coast, and then wait 30 minutes because the pilot says you’re 8th in line for take off — or would you rather meet the team charter at 5:15pm, get on the plane at 5:30, take off at 5:55pm and land in Baton Rouge at 6:45pm?
The kid will say, “I want the charter flight, for sure.”
And who wouldn’t?
The follow-up, though, is this: “Do you know what it costs to charter a plane for 100 people from Birmingham to Baton Rouge?”
The kid would probably say, “I don’t know…twenty grand maybe…with tip.”
The answer: $120,000. (Not bad…you’re only off by $100,000. Or the amount they charge Alabama Bank and Trust to be the title sponsor of the Alabama-Auburn game in late October and have two big scoreboard ads for the whole season.)
Kids want to fly first class, but they have no idea what it costs to do that.
Just like they have no idea what a tenured professor makes. And they have no idea what the food costs are for the free meals they eat for four years. And the chef who runs the school cafeteria? He’s not on $27,000. He makes REAL money. Same for the athletic trainers. And the compliance people who have a Masters Degree don’t make $37,000…it’s more like $87,000. And the tutors who make sure you pass the classes you sorta-kinda care about don’t do it for $8.50 an hour. When someone blows out their ACL, a real doctor fixes it. He/she doesn’t do it for free or in exchange for four tickets to the homecoming game.
The student athletes who abuse the system, brag about it, get caught, and then complain about how the school “got over on them” are just not in touch with reality.
The reality is hard to understand, though, because no one has ever really explained it to them the right way.
A kid gets a scholarship and is told, “help us win football games and we’ll take care of you…”
A year later, he sees his jersey for sale for $60.00 in the school book store and says, “Shouldn’t I get $10.00 out of that $60.00?”
And the response, of course, should be this: “No, you don’t get any money…we’re selling that jersey so you can go to school here for free…and eat for free…and train for free…and live for free…and travel around the country for free…”
If college is for educating, then the schools need to start teaching their athletes about the real value of the free education they’re receiving and make them all understand that nearly every single person at the University pays real money for their schooling…and it’s only because you can throw a football, swing a golf club, dunk a basketball or hit a baseball or softball that you don’t have to pay for your education.
Maybe once the kids all learn what it really takes to run the athletic program and the school itself, they’ll stop taking for granted the free ride they’re on…but it’s up to the school to teach them.