Take everything you’ve come to imagine about collegiate athletics and throw it out the window until the end of this post. Now think about the most talented athletes who are using the NCAA, not because they want to, but because they have to, in order to get to the next level. Athletics come first, school second. No one cares about Cam Newton’s grades when he’s the heir apparent to Tim Tebow. When he’s getting his at a rival school, then suddenly his grades are an issue. How many of you care about your favorite school’s star athlete’s grades? It comes a very distant second to his ability. So if we as fans can put their talent first and foremost, why can’t they?
They can, and they do. Athlete first, school second. If you don’t believe me, look at the huge sacks and touchdowns in the primetime game of the week. How many players point to the logo on their helmets? How many pound their chests? Many athletes had dreams of making the pros, not playing for State U. The NCAA serves as a vehicle to a professional level, and while that’s true for most students, the truth is that as an aspiring writer, no major publication will call me after two years and ask me to go pro. No one will invite me to Palm Springs and open a briefcase of cash in front of me. A.J Green can sell his Independence Bowl jersey for 1,000 dollars. No one will buy the t-shirt that I wore when I took my final exams. There is a not-so-fine line between a student and a student athlete. Yet, for some reason we as fans ignore the obvious ramifications of conventional wisdom.
Now, back to the business side of things. Take the business sense that you have and apply it towards each of the individuals involved in the process of recruitment, collegiate exposure, and furthermore, making the professional level. Look at it from the perspective of a parent or guardian. Look at it from the coach’s perspective. Look at it from the Athletic Director’s viewpoint. Don’t forget the President of the university and the boosters that contribute astronomical amounts of money to the athletic programs. Lest we forget the agents, that do all they can to get the next big star, and of course the star him/herself. Now think about how uncorrupted the system is. There are so many variables involved, and they all have their own personal interests that must be satisfied. All in all, the agent, athlete and parents have an expiration date on their connection with the school. Once a player goes pro, the school’s issues are irrelevant to them. Cam Newton plays one year at Auburn and then he’s in the pros. Regardless of the scandal, possible suspensions or the money he may have taken, he’s gone next year. He’s quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers and he really doesn’t have a vested interest in what happens to the War Eagle screamers.
Since the theme of this supposed to be naivety, let’s get back to that shall we? Auburn’s recent scandal serves as an excellent landmark of which we measure people’s reactions. Now, let’s assume that Cam Newton is ‘big pimpin’ on Auburn’s money. There will be an outpour of shock and disappointment. The NCAA will take swift and proper actions. Newton won’t hoist the Heisman, Auburn will get roasted by Alabama and the ‘bad guys’ will come up short since the Deuce is their entire offense. Chizik will be ridiculed, if not fired. Hounds tooth will overtake solid orange as the predominant pattern in the state of Alabama. All will be right with the world of college football again. Right? Wrong.
Put yourself in the middle of Auburn’s grubby little cheating situation. If you were to cheat, would you go from spending zero dollars on recruits to spending 200,000 dollars? There are two reasons you would spend 200k on an athlete. First, you have a good program and you know the ubermensch will bring about the championship that you’ve long awaited. You deserved one in 1993. You ran the table with nothing to show for it. Oh wait, those darn sanctions from the NCAA held you back. You deserved one in 2004, but alas, those dirty cheaters at USC won it instead. So now, in the days before Alabama’s full return to glory under the unholy Saban, you gain a commitment from the formerly troubled Cam Newton. Newton is the white whale. With Newton, Auburn can take it to the limit. There’s the first reason why 200,000 dollars would be shelled out for a player, because the player could be the player. Texas had Vince Young, USC had Reggie Bush, and Alabama had Mark Ingram. Cam Newton was that white whale.
The second reason you would spend 200,000 dollars on a recruit is because you can. There are two branches to this reason. First, you can pay out the money because you have the money. You have a ton of big money boosters who want to win at all costs. Also, they want people to know that the much-hated Alabama isn’t the only show in town. Watching Nick Saban lift that crystal football that has been just out of your reach is infuriating and it makes your boosters’ blood boil. They can pay for Cam, and by golly, they will. Secondly, you can pay the 200,000 dollars because you’ve paid before. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Newton or Auburn. I’ve rooted for them most of the year; their success has been a great story. But in the interest of this example, I must assume that they’ve paid athletes before. I say this because I’m a rational being, not an irrational fool. No one goes from paying zero to 200k. It. Does. Not. Happen. No one goes to a blackjack table and empties their wallet on the table for one hand. It defies the unwritten rules of gambling. The only way that Auburn could have ponied up that amount of cash is that they knew how to hide it from previous encounters.
This is where the naïve mindset of humans in respect to the NCAA must be revealed. Let’s say that everything gets cleaned up. Where’s the further investigation? Don’t think for one minute that Auburn, or any other school has clean hands in this situation. This isn’t Tulane. 200,000 dollars isn’t being handed out unless it can be done in a discreet manner. And have you ever done anything of high stakes in a discreet manner that you have never done before? The answer is no. Therein lays the problem. We as people like to think we’ve found the white whale. Whether the white whale is found by Auburn in their pursuit of a championship, or by the NCAA in their pursuit of uncorrupting the system, the chase is for a singular thing. What none of us seem to understand is there is no white whale. There is no isolated player that’s worth more cash than another; there is no isolated scandal that deserves more punishment than the last. The players will continue to be paid in the system that allows for wiggle room and backdoor deals. The scandals will occur at big time programs with slaps on the wrist and the occasional severe punishment. With the A.J Green jer$ey problem, the bills in Chapel Hill, and now the War Legal in Auburn, it’s become more and more apparent that the NCAA is as corrupted as politics. If fans are outraged by the scandals that erupt, then I point to their own naivety.
The white whales are gone. The system is broken.