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NCAA Basketball Bribery Scandal and What Will Change

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Louisville coach Rick Pitino shouts instructions to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville won 85-80. Photo: AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Ten college basketball assistant coaches were charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with accepting bribes in order to steer their players to a particular agent. What happened is that a fellow named Louis Martin Blazer III worked as an agent for various athletes and, in that capacity, stole millions of their dollars. He was caught and charged. In order to avoid going to prison he agreed to work with the FBI.

Before going forward, there are some things we must understand about the nature of college athletics and sports agents. The top college athletes are going to sign large contracts with professional teams when they finish their collegiate careers. A percentage of this money goes to the agent. There is enormous competition to sign the best athletes. The agents are not allowed to solicit the athletes directly until they are ready to become professionals. This hampers the agent because they can’t have a relationship with the athlete prior to that moment. So, of course, the agents instead become friendly with assistant coaches, coaches, family, and friends of the best athletes. They buy them dinners, they pay for trips, they generally try to get into the good graces of those with influence over the decisions the athletes make.

That’s what happened in this case. Blazer cozied up to assistant coaches and offered them cash payments in exchange for advising the athletes to use his agency. Now is the time you are supposed to open your eyes wide and exclaim in utter horror that you had no idea anything like this could possibly happen. It’s just horrible and criminal. Unless you’re of a like mind with me: the NCAA rules prohibiting agents from soliciting athletes directly created this problem. This is the obvious and only outcome of a rule that doesn’t allow agents and college athletes to develop professional relationships. In this case the assistant coaches are making money that rightfully belongs to the athlete.

Even if you are of the opinion that such dealings are against the rules, I hope you cannot imagine this particular series of indictments is going to change anything. The lesson agents and those associated with athletes will learn is: Don’t commit to anything.

Agent: Hey, I’m buying you this all-expense paid trip to New York out of the goodness of my heart because I see you need a trip. Here are some tickets to the Knicks game. Knock yourself out.

Assistant Coach: Thanks, I appreciate it but I want you to know that I won’t being trying to influence my players in any way. Wink-wink.

Agent: Of course not. I would never ask you to do anything like that.

That’s the way such business will be done from now on, but it won’t change the underlying methodology. Agents will still solicit assistant coaches, and others, in exchange for favorable words to the athletes.

This is exactly how it’s done in federal, state, and local politics all across this great country of ours. That’s what rouses my ire the most. Lobbyist and politicians are engaged in precisely the same thing that is going on in the NCAA, except they are smart enough not to make any commitments. Oh, thanks for the trip to Europe but I’m not going to make any promises on that bill effecting your company.

Now, I’ve ranted here for a while but I don’t want to quit until I’ve offered up a real solution. It’s easy. Collegiate athletes should be able to make money off their own name. I’m not even saying they should be paid like professional athletes with contracts and what not, but if they are a prized athlete who might sign for a lot of money in the future, why shouldn’t an agent be able to woo them? Any other college student, perhaps a fine young actor, is perfectly free to bargain and contract with agents. That’s the nature of capitalism.

In this situation, the NCAA has created an entire level of seediness that is unnecessary. The assistant coach, or family and friends, takes money from the agent and then advises the unknowing athlete to choose that agent. Why shouldn’t the athlete get the money directly? There should be no deceit.

By Tom Liberman

Tom Liberman is a regular fellow from St. Louis, Mo., who enjoys spending time with his wonderful family and great friends. He writes Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels in his spare time. 

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