This week’s Sports Illustrated cover story is the most important sports story since Tom Verducci’s groundbreaking story on performance enhancing drugs, “Totally Juiced,” back in 2002.
As you’ve probably heard, the article, “Confessions of an Agent,” just out today, is Josh Luchs’ tell-all (in this case, told to senior writer George Dohrmann) about his years as a sports agent the money – paid out in various forms, including cash, gifts and clothing – to at least 60 athletes who went on to play pro football.
The story is remarkable for several reasons, one of which is that for the first time the strategy of how an agent makes inroads on college athletes is revealed: “A common way for an agent to gain a foothold in the business is by getting in with a single school … I had UCLA.” If you were a good player at UCLA, Luchs says, “I made a run at you.”
“I tried to get can’t-miss NFL left tackle prospect Jonathan Ogden as a client, but he wouldn’t take my money. He did, however, go with me to a Janet Jackson concert. My girlfriend got two tickets, and I told her, ‘Sorry, I need those tickets for JO. He’s a big Janet Jackson fan.’ Instead of going to the concert with my girlfriend, I went with a 6′-9″ guy who weighed more than 300 pounds and who screamed ‘Janet!’ the whole night like a teenage girl.”
But the most interesting aspect of Luchs’ account is its utter lack of remorse. “The lunches, the money each month, the bail” – on more than one occasion a prospective client called him after a DUI or club brawl – “the concert tickets, those were all NCAA violations, of course. But in my mind I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Doc” – Harold “Doc” Daniels, one of the first prominent black NFL agents, who died in 2001 – “would say to me, ‘We ain’t members of the NCAA. We didn’t agree to follow those rules.’ “
The case is put even more succinctly by Luchs’ final statement, which sums up his attitude and that of most of the athletes he’s represented over the years: “Sorry, I gotta do what’s best for me and my family.”
Indeed. No doubt the SI bombshell will lead to a huge amount of moralizing as to why the NCAA is justified in imposing a paternalistic attitude towards college athletes and their income, but I have a touch that revelations are going to be the first move in starting the ball rolling back in the other direction – towards player emancipation.
The best response so far is from Charles P. Pierce at boston.com. “As should have been obvious for oh, 100 years by now, the amateur model for spectator sports is both unjust and utterly unsustainable. It was unsustainable in golf and in tennis, and it was unsustainable in the Olympic games.”
The “free college education” argument,” says Pierce, “no longer obtains, not when we’re talking about billion-dollar TV deals … Sooner or later, the system is going to collapse. The only question is how loud the crash will be and who walks away from it.”
Bring it on.