Their high-profile positions give them access to gifts and services not available to everyone else. They know they’re not supposed to accept the extra benefits, but they do so anyway, often bringing shame to their institutions when caught. Despite numerous examples of prohibited perks leading to a downfall, the cycle continues, with new reports surfacing on a regular basis.
No, not quarterbacks and point guards in college dorms, but politicians and CEOs in halls of power.
Paul Magliocchetti, head of a powerful lobbying firm on Capitol Hill, pleaded guilty last fall to campaign-finance fraud. Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, was convicted in November of illegal contributions and money laundering. Jack Johnson, former Prince George’s County Executive, pleaded guilty last month to accepting bribes. And in my home state, New York, the scandal-scarred Legislature is crafting a bill to address an unprecedented string of corruption and ethics cases.
When adults are willing to risk criminal charges and jail time for hundreds and thousands of dollars, we shouldn’t be surprised when teens and 20-somethings risk their collegiate eligibility for tattoos, autographs and sweet deals on a car.
The same day that Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor announced he was skipping his senior season, the newlywed wife of Colt McCoy — another former star quarterback — said many University of Texas players didn’t have the strength to resist impermissible contact with agents and boosters.
“I saw so many of his teammates who didn’t have that self-control to say ‘No’ to somebody,” Rachel McCoy said Wednesday on Colin Cowherd’s radio show. “It’s hard when it’s an adult you respect, and you think will know right from wrong.”
That prompted a statement from athletic director DeLoss Dodds: “We take compliance very seriously at Texas,” he said. “We have procedures in place that enable our coaches, student-athletes and administrators to make the right choices. We are performing our due diligence as always to make certain there are no outstanding compliance issues.”
But infractions can occur based on something as minor as free dinners, which Rachel McCoy said are offered routinely from Texans who “are just being friendly and don’t mean anything by it at all.” And we’re not talking about fine dining on linen tablecloths. “Texas is very strict about making it clear to all their players that you take absolutely nothing,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s a hot dog or a soda — that’s just the regular stuff.”
Look, I’m on record as being opposed to paying college athletes outright, unless it’s a form of work-study available to non-athletes, too. But I refuse to join the masses who demonize college athletes who accept extra benefits, especially trifles.
While an NCAA report last summer showed that just 14 of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools made money from campus athletics in the 2009 fiscal year, places like Texas and Ohio State are among the select group turning huge profits. With all that money passing under their noses — through multimillion-dollar facilities, burgeoning apparel sales, exorbitant coaching salaries and pervasive sponsorship deals - some players always will believe they’re being shortchanged in getting “only” a scholarship (plus room, board, travel, training and equipment).
And among those who believe the deal is lopsided, some will always accept the freebies and assorted goodies available to them. Just like the grown-up politicians and CEOs who breach ethics and criminal laws, these student-athletes believe they’re entitled to extras. Their coaches and administrators are powerless to stop them.
“Anything that any player goes and gets is all based on him and who he meets in the community,” former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett said Wednesday on The Dan Patrick Show. “The coaches and the university have no control over what the young guy’s doing.”
We understand how power can go to the head of executives and elected officials. But think about teenage athletes who have been lauded, spoiled and pampered since grade school. Everyone wants to be their friend, do favors, give gifts and tell them they’re wonderful. Grown men gush like schoolgirls over them.
At such a young, impressionable age, it’s a wonder that more student-athletes don’t run afoul of the NCAA’s stringent regulations. It’s not like they’d risk serving jail time.