“I will never forget the first time I paid a player.”
These are the words of former NFL agent Josh Luchs printed in a special Sports Illustrated report released on its website Tuesday. Luchs, who was a NFL agent for 20 years, alleges that he knows of 30 collegiate football players who took cash or extra benefits while still in school, most of which were provided by him in the 1990s.
Of those 30 people, four were USC players, including receiver R. Jay Soward. You might recognize Soward’s name from various recaps over the weekend as freshman receiver Robert Woods came dangerously close to Soward’s school record of 260 receiving yards in a game. Soward told SI that Luchs’ statements about their interactions is true and he took the money because his scholarship didn’t give him enough money for rent or food. He said he would do it again if he had the chance.
Although this report deals with transgressions that happened 10-20 years ago, it still has a major effect on college athletics today. It confirms what many people currently believe: that player-agent monetary relationships have been and still are very prevalent at many institutions around the country, not just at USC.
But it also indirectly confirms another truth USC fans have widely believed. The NCAA was trying to make a point with the sanctions handed down to USC over the summer.
Before I go on, it must be noted that USC isn’t the first institution to be punished by the NCAA — far from it. Over the years, some schools have received just as harsh — if not harsher — punishments as the Trojans.
Southern Methodist University, which was a football powerhouse in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, had its football season cancelled for two years (the NCAA gave it the option to play only road games in 1988 but the school declined) as a result of findings that a booster paid the players via the athletic department.
Then there was Miami in the mid-’90s, which was put on a one-year bowl ban and lost dozens of scholarships for manipulating the system in order to get hundreds of thousands of extra dollars in Pell Grant money and financial aid.
Alabama received stricter penalties in 2002 when it received a two-year bowl ban and also lost scholarships because boosters gave five-figure payments to a few high school coaches in order to lure recruits.
Finally, there was Indiana basketball in 2008, which was put on probation for three years in addition to self-imposed scholarship reductions when it was found to have major recruiting violations.
However, although these penalties are arguably harsher, these schools didn’t get punished because an agent paid a player in hopes of landing him after he left school. All payments came via boosters or inside men to entice athletes to stay at that school. There were a lot more cases of NCAA rule-breaking by schools during this time, but they mostly dealt with academic fraud, recruiting violations and the like.
USC is the first case of a school receiving major penalties because of illegal activity regarding agent-player relations. But as the SI report shows, this activity has been going on for at least 20 years, most likely longer.
Even though it’s been happening for so long, there hasn’t been a notable penalty until the one levied on USC. That’s partly because of inconsistencies in laws throughout the various states, but also because it’s extremely hard to prove. It took the NCAA four years to finally come out with the sanctions against USC.
With all this in mind, it’s clear the NCAA is trying to make an example out of USC. Just look at the current college football landscape. Since the sanctions were handed down at USC, North Carolina’s football team has become the subject of a major NCAA probe looking into player-agent relations that has already had a few players dismissed or suspended from the team. Florida’s Maurkice Pouncey is alleged to have taken $100,000 from an agent before last year’s Sugar Bowl. Alabama and South Carolina are also on the NCAA’s radar regarding player-agent misconduct.
USC was clearly not the only school where such improprieties were occurring. But the NCAA is hoping to show that the USC sanctions, will hopefully curb the practice. It’s hoping for a response similar to the one given by John Lombardi, the president of the University of Florida when SMU received its penalty in the late ‘80s.
“SMU taught the committee that the death penalty is too much like the nuclear bomb. It’s like what happened after we dropped the (atom) bomb in World War II. The results were so catastrophic that now we’ll do anything to avoid dropping another one.”
Sadly, this problem might be too widespread — Luchs was just one unknown guy among possibly hundreds doing this — and so deep that the NCAA will have trouble keeping tabs on everyone. All the NCAA can do is hope stiff sanctions are enough to scare schools straight.
“Spittin’ Sports” runs every Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org.