Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The End of The Dirt Road, Part One: How the NFL Can End Corruption In College Football

It reads more like a laundry list at this point.

Reggie Bush accepting $290,000 in gifts while at USC. Bush having to vacate the Heisman Trophy as a result. Cam Newton's father claiming that it would take "anywhere between $100,000 and $180,000" to get his son to play at Mississippi State.

Newton didn't go to Starkville, but chose Auburn after being kicked out of the University of Florida because he stole a laptop and was caught three times for academic cheating.

That's just the minor stuff, really. Compared to Ohio State and Miami, the acceptance of speakeasy-style money seems downright quaint.

Ohio State players, most notably new Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were selling Buckeye merchandise to a known Columbus drug dealer in exchange for discounted tattoos. Tattoo artist Edward Rife plead guilty to charges of money laundering and drug trafficking on June 28. He could face up to 60 years in federal prison between the two offenses.

These dalliances lead to the dismissals of Pryor and national championship winning coach Jim Tressel from Ohio State. It should be noted that Tressel knew of this scandal in April 2010, but never disclosed this information per contractual requirements and NCAA compliance regulations.

Furthermore, Tressel once wrote a book called The Winners Manual. The Winners Manual habitually cites Scripture. In fact, the beginning of the first chapter uses a passage from the Book of Romans:

Rejoice in our confident hope.
Be patient in trouble,
And keep on praying.
--Romans 12:12

It would appear that Tressel was quite confident that all he would need to beat his troubles would be the patience of a deaf-mute as he sat on his hands and did nothing. All the while his athletes cavorted with felons and cost him his job.

Never mind the unemployment line. Tressel should just rejoice that he didn't land in jail alongside the felons. That would be more than enough reason to keep on praying.

And then there's the University of Miami which may face the NCAA's Death Penalty for the latest accusations published by Yahoo! Sports in August 2011. At least 72 Miami football and basketball players were readily involved with convicted Ponzi scheme artist and Miami graduate Nevin Shapiro. Shapiro allegedly provided $2 million in under-the-table benefits that includes sex parties on his yacht with prostitutes, cash and in one instance, the money to front an abortion.

Some of the biggest names and best players in the NFL are all linked to the scandal and involvement with Shapiro. Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, Carolina LB Jon Beason, Giants safety Antrel Rolle and Chicago's electrifying all-purpose return man Devin Hester are amongst the alleged beneficiaries of Shapiro's sleazy and criminal acts.

Make no mistake of how bad this looks for all parties, including the NFL. The four aforementioned players have appeared in eleven combined Pro Bowls. These aren't exactly stiffs on the bench we're talking about here. Furthermore, Wilfork and Hester are bordering on household names, and Hester might be a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame just for his special teams play alone.

To that end, everyone looks bad. Potentially criminal, in fact. In the past, the NCAA and university presidents might shrug their shoulders, promise reform but then look the other way as the scandals ensue. This time, though, reform may be imminent but it won't be due to shame as a result of the depravities at college football's biggest institutions.

It might happen because someone living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue tells the NCAA that they must fix college football. Or else.

Here's three things we know offhand:

1. President Obama is a huge sports fan.

2. President Obama has openly stated that he wants reform in college football, starting with a playoff. To that end, we also know that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is still working on an antitrust lawsuit against the Bowl Championship Series that decides how college football determines a national championship.

3. America is about 9 bazillion dollars in the hole.

Regarding the third point, Congress and the President are debating, sometimes cantankerously, if at all, on how to solve the debt crisis. One of the biggest talking points includes taxation reform, or more accurately, closing loopholes that inhibit revenue enhancement. If taxes can't go up, the money has to come from somewhere to cover the costs incurred. The main focus in the debate has been on companies like GE's tax avoidance methods and also increasing the taxation of luxury items like corporate jets.

However, it would be naive to suggest that other entities both large and small wouldn't be affected by the debt discussions in Washington. It is certainly not inconceivable to suggest that many tax loopholes may be closing in the next few years in an attempt to generate revenue and balance the federal budget.

This is central to both college football and the NFL for one simple reason. Take a look again at the money being thrown around in the clandestine world of college football. Look at the numbers already discussed here. Reggie Bush's $290,000 "gifts" that he received as a student/athlete at USC. The brazen six-figure sums thrown about by Cam Newton's father. The untold piles of cash derived from Columbus money launderers. The $2 million spent on Miami football players.

It doesn't just beg the question of where the money is coming from. For political purposes, there's a greater question to be asked.

Is it being taxed?

Consider the sources. Money launderers, drug dealers and Ponzi scheme architects amongst others. Given that the money paid out to college football's elite came by sketchy, if not illegal means, then it would take an incredible leap of faith to suggest that this money was properly reported and taxed accordingly.

Furthermore, college football's profit topped $1 billion for the first time in 2010. For Americans that protest Congressional involvement in sports scandals as a way of political grandstanding and a waste of time, Sports Karma asks this. How many American or multinational corporations can post profits of $1 billion while they repeatedly and publicly align themselves with felons? How is it possible that they don't they receive federal subpoenas? If this were an oil company or an accounting firm, wouldn't every American call for an investigation, at the least? Why then does the NCAA get a pass from Congressional questioning? Just because it's football?

Moreover, if we're speaking of public institutions, aren't they supposed to be non-profit? How can a public institution "profit?"

What the business is is irrelevant for the purposes of tax reform. What the business is doing is cause for significant alarm, regardless of what line of work they are in. Don't kid yourself. What college football is doing may be criminal, and the NCAA seems powerless to stop itself.

Keep in mind that scandals are really old hat to the NCAA and to college football as a whole. Miami has been down this road before as evidenced by ESPN's 30 For 30 documentary series, The U. Oklahoma State graduated the illiterate Dexter Manley from its university. SMU was the first and only Death Penalty casualty of the NCAA. SMU had to shut down the program for two years during the 1980s as a result of repeated NCAA transgressions. It should be noted that Oklahoma State and SMU were involved in two of college football's biggest scandals of yesteryear, and they were hardly considered amongst the blue-bloods of the game.

Miami, Ohio State and USC, on the other hand, have combined for an astonishing twenty-four national championships, sixteen Heisman Trophy winners and three of the biggest scandals in sports history, the latter three all accounted for within the last 6 years.

Given all the evidence, would it really be a huge surprise to see NCAA officials, university presidents and NFL players all testifying on Capitol Hill within the next 3-5 years? Would it really be a huge surprise to see Congress demanding these individuals cough up their "fair share?" The NCAA has already proven they have no shame so that's not really the issue here. However, the NFL would probably like to avoid the ignoble limelight in this instance.

Many believe that the NFL can do no wrong and that's probably true in this day and age. That said, there's no question how awful it would look to see millionaire football players being grilled by Congress on the subject of questionable alliances and the prospects of tax evasion. In a day and age where more and more Americans are having a tough time simply putting food on the table, the sight of seeing some of the NFL's marquee names being questioned in Washington would be a PR nightmare akin to Major League Baseball's recent visit to Congress.

Given the possible scenarios in play, it seems that college football's path is an endless dirt road of investigations, scandals and possible criminal conduct with a Congressional roadblock in sight.

That is, unless, the NFL can provide a permanent detour.

In a way, NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell already has intervened in NCAA matters. Terrelle Pryor was drafted by Oakland in the NFL supplemental draft, but was immediately suspended five games for violating the "integrity of the eligibility rules for the NFL draft."

Pryor was supposed to be suspended by Ohio State for the first five games, but he left the university entirely to pursue an NFL career. ESPN's Tim Keown suggests:
"this is another example of a professional sports league engaging in a little quid pro quo with the allegedly amateur organization that provides it with talent. Goodell's decision to 'honor' Pryor's five-game Ohio State suspension by transferring it to the NFL is eerily similar to the NBA/NCAA collusion on NBA age limits."
Keown uses an interesting word here and it typically has a negative connotation.


Normally, the idea of collusion sounds conspiratorial, but in this case, the NCAA may not have much of a choice but to play along with the NFL. While the NFL may certainly have some problematic characters (Re: Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Cedric Benson, etc), there's no questioning its for-profit status or the legitimacy of the NFL's profits. The NCAA obviously cannot say the same.

Given that point, could the NFL potentially risk a future where some of their future employers are under constant financial scrutiny from the federal government? Can the NFL seriously trust college coaches and university presidents with their potential employees considering some of the unscrupulous behavior already exhibited, not just by the players, but by the coaches and presidents themselves?

What the NFL ultimately needs isn't for college football to be its minor league system. What the NFL needs is a minor league system.

Click here for Part 2

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