Long Read: “Meet the Bag Man (How to Buy College Football Players…)”

Pure self-indulgence, because although I know nothing about sports I am always interested in the exotic folkways of my fellow Americans. (In the spirit of Rule 34, I believe there should be a Rule 35: ‘For every existing system, there is at least one group gaming it.’) From Steven Godfrey, at SB Nation:

[I]t’s just cash changing hands. When things are done correctly, there’s no proof more substantial than one man’s word over another. That allows for plausible deniability, which is good enough for the coaches, administrators, conference officials, and network executives. And the man I officially didn’t speak with was emphatic that no one really understands how often and how well it almost always works.

These men are fans who believe they’re leveraging football success $500 or $50,000 at a time. I can’t show you that money, and neither can anyone else. You might think you see the money — a flash of $20 bills all over some kid’s Instagram or Facebook update — but that’s just money…

“If we could take a vote for these kids to make a real salary every season, I would vote for it. $40,000 or something. Goes back to mama, buys them a car, lets them go live like normal people after they work their asses off for us. But let’s be honest, that ain’t gonna stop all this. If everyone gets $40,000, someone would still be trying to give ’em 40 extra on the side.”…

“There are jokes about kids getting cars, but that’s actually pretty easy. We all have dealerships all over. You practically have to nowadays, anyway, just for the coaches. Think about it. Most schools, all the football, basketball, and baseball coaches and their wives are getting some kind of vehicle for free as part of their contract. Then they’re turning them in every three years or so. That’s a fleet right there. You need a lot of guys with dealerships, and you need them in different towns. Then getting a clean title on a member of the family is pretty easy.”…

Resources, assistance, paperwork, and even a subpar explanation mean most needs can be taken care of.

“One time grandpa needed his tractor fixed. He and grandma were the primary care-givers of this kid out in a rural area. Well, they aren’t going to turn down the money, and they didn’t, but what they needed was a tractor to get fixed. But we couldn’t take this tractor to get fixed just anywhere, because the guy who does that locally works for a business that’s owned by a [rival school] fan.”…

Still, why not limit the interaction to simply providing the money for the repair? Why get so involved when it only increases potential complications or chances of exposure?

“Because of the competition. If we’re after a guy, what are the chances four more schools in the SEC aren’t after him too? What you want more than anything else is the ability to sit down with that decision-maker, grandma or mama or the uncle, right before the time comes and say, ‘Hey, we know that old so-and-so from [rival school] has come to see you. That’s fine. But we know you know who’s been here since the beginning and who’s been taking care of you.’ You want them to believe that you’ll take care of them the best in the future, too.”

Remember, your job as a bag man isn’t to hide the benefit. It’s to hide the proof. In a region as passionate about college football as the American South, there’s no real moral outrage when new cars or clothes or jobs for relatives appear.

“We can only get away with whatever’s considered reasonable by the majority of the folks in our society. That’s why it’s different in the SEC. Maybe that’s why we’re able to be more active in what we do. Because no one ever looks at the car or the jewelry and says, ‘How did you get that, poor football player?’ They say, ‘How did they get you that and not get caught, poor football player?'”…

46 replies
  1. 1
    raven says:

    If you believe this is about the SEC you are dreaming.

  2. 2
    Eric U. says:

    @raven: which part? I’m pretty sure they don’t want to pay the players directly because they would lose their leverage.

  3. 3
    jake the snake says:

    This is about everywhere. The SEC just does it a little better than anyone else.

  4. 4
    the Conster says:

    Mad Men thread? YES PLZ.

  5. 5
    Cacti says:

    Let college players profit from their own name and likeness outside of school. Of all of the NCAA’s rules on amateurism, that one is the most ridiculous.

    If someone is willing to pay Johnny Manziel for his autograph, what business is it of the school or the NCAA?

  6. 6
    The Dangerman says:

    @jake the snake:

    This is about everywhere.

    This.

    I saw something at a P10 (oops, P12 now) school once long ago (shockingly, not USC) that shows it is, indeed, everyplace.

    ETA: I should have said a road trip P12 game; that would have eliminated USC immediately as no sane person goes to that hell hole called the Coliseum.

  7. 7

    Meet the guy who shouted “Heil Hitler” and then killed three people at Jewish-related facilities in Overland Park KS today.

    Former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

  8. 8
    James E. Powell says:

    I’m curious what the market would provide for a college player if the schools had to compete.

  9. 9
    efgoldman says:

    Shocked, SHOCKED I say!

  10. 10
    Anne Laurie says:

    @raven:

    If you believe this is about the SEC you are dreaming.

    As in “different conference” or “doesn’t happen”? Honest question.

    If all the guys who talked to Steven Green Godfrey are blowing smoke (at each other, as well as him) that’s almost as interesting as if they’re really gaming the system. From my outsider viewpoint, there certainly seems to be a lot of posturing going on, and when it comes to primates the posturing may be the whole point, but is there any way to judge whether college football is as compromised as ‘everybody knows’?

  11. 11
    ulee says:

    What a racket. One step below religion.

  12. 12
    the Conster says:

    Freddie Rumsfeld’s BACK.

  13. 13
    Violet says:

    @Anne Laurie: It’s happening everywhere, not just the SEC. It may be happening a bit more frequently or bigger or obviously in the SEC. Or not.

    College football is a big business. Until and unless that is somehow changed, none of this will change.

  14. 14
    efgoldman says:

    @the Conster:

    Freddie Rumsfeld’s BACK.

    War criminal’s brother? Cousin?

  15. 15
    the Conster says:

    Spencer Davis introduces Don Draper.

  16. 16
    ulee says:

    I take it back. Religion is King. And it’s all an illusion. amazing.

  17. 17
    rikyrah says:

    There’s billions being made off these players. They should be directly compensated.

  18. 18
    the Conster says:

    @efgoldman:

    Rumsen. Politics on the brain. BJ brain cramp.

  19. 19
    NotMax says:

    Lawdy, lawdy. Does anyone at SB Nation write anything worth reading?

  20. 20
    the Conster says:

    LOL @ Pete.

  21. 21
    NotMax says:

    @rikyrah

    If they are on scholarships, they are being compensated.

    Whether that is sufficient or proportionally commensurate compensation is open to debate.

  22. 22
    efgoldman says:

    @Southern Beale:

    Meet the guy who shouted “Heil Hitler” and then killed three people at Jewish-related facilities in Overland Park KS today.

    Real brave guy. Went after people in elderly housing.
    I don’t believe in the death penalty, but they should drop this guy in a real deep hole and hope he lives a long, long time.
    His trial, whenever it happens, will be a circus, I predict. And not in a good way.

  23. 23
    NotMax says:

    @Southern Beale

    Turns out at least two of those killed were gentile.

  24. 24
    Violet says:

    “If we could take a vote for these kids to make a real salary every season, I would vote for it. $40,000 or something. Goes back to mama, buys them a car, lets them go live like normal people after they work their asses off for us. But let’s be honest, that ain’t gonna stop all this. If everyone gets $40,000, someone would still be trying to give ‘em 40 extra on the side.”…

    Seems to me this is true. That doesn’t mean salaries should be paid, but the push to win is strong and the penalties aren’t strong enough.

  25. 25
    efgoldman says:

    @NotMax:

    Turns out at least two of those killed were gentile.

    Police arrested a man in his 70s after the shootings. They haven’t released his name but have said they don’t think he knew the victims.
    Police have declined to say if they think the attack was motivated by anti-Semitism.

    CTV needs to do better reporting. @Southern Beale: found the link, they should have, too.

  26. 26
    NotMax says:

    @efgoldman

    If you mean the reporter, quite possibly.

    Police being vague about motive while an immediate investigation is ongoing is not all that atypical, however.

  27. 27
    Wally Ballou says:

    @ulee: For many people they’re pretty much one and the same.

  28. 28
    Nutella says:

    @NotMax:

    If they are on scholarships, they are being compensated.

    Paid tuition to a not-really-real academic program is fake compensation. It’s not a real degree that’s going to do the athletes any good and it’s not real money that they can actually spend. They should be paid directly above the table to a) obviate the necessity for all the corrupt practices of the bag men, and b) get paid for their valuable work.

  29. 29
    gian says:

    @Violet:

    of course it happens everywhere. with the massive ESPN contract that’s recent with the SEC, it gets hidden/forgiven slightly better there. (Cam Newton anyone?) versus say the pac10/12 (Reggie Bush) In the 80s it was local car dealers giving no-show jobs to athletes. in Oklahoma that made some sort of story. (which is strange because of the “amateur” rules)

    this year it leaked from some school that the “hostess” girls just might have sex with highly recruited prospects. I mean really, who ever could’ve thought that might ever happen?

    When you compete to have some special snowflake come to your school, and you can’t openly offer cash and prizes, and the kid doesn’t give a crap about education, just what do you do? Only so many are actually going to make the next level, and it’s really not that many.

  30. 30
    FMguru says:

    One of the few hard-and-fast rules I learned taking all those political science classes was “Every status quo , no matter how ridiculous or wasteful or horrible, exists to the benefit of somebody, and they will resist any effort to change it with all their strength”, followed by the corollary “Every intervention or change in a situation will create winners and losers, and those losers will likely nurse a grudge and have long memories”.

  31. 31
    MattR says:

    @Cacti:

    Let college players profit from their own name and likeness outside of school. Of all of the NCAA’s rules on amateurism, that one is the most ridiculous.

    I actually think this is one of the key underpinnings of the amateur model. IMO, there is not much difference between being paid to play a game and being paid for your name/likeness because you play a game. But I also believe that the amateur model doesn’t really apply anymore to big time college sports. I am not sure that is the change I would make (I would prefer the money come from the university directly where it can be regulated rather than allowing boosters to spend unlimited amounts to recruit players), but something has to give because the current system is broken.

  32. 32
    jl says:

    It all sounds so swell. But my understanding is that if something goes wrong, people don’t get took care of no more. Say, kid blows a knee, or the school gets enough better players at the position next year. Then, I believe, it is, too darn bad.

    I heard John Madden say that they ought to just say the heck with it and have sports majors in college for those that want it and give them four year scholarships for the major. Maybe he has a point. Will sound kind of doofus, “I majored in football… duh…” But at least for the ones that chose it, they would get a curriculum they are interested in, and might be motivated to study more or less college level material to learn it.

    I remember tutoring varsity players way back in the day. From what I say what a sad mess some of those guys were, and near fraud in how they got through college. Some were very good students though. But many were a mess.

  33. 33
    ulee says:

    Your feet are going to be on the ground. Your head is there to move you around. So stand.

  34. 34
    ulee says:

    this is a dead thread. I guess this blog is an eastern phenomena. On the west coast it’s only 9:10.

  35. 35
    ulee says:

    You know, the sheriffs got his problems too. And he will surely take them out on you.

  36. 36
    ulee says:

    Well, I guess they are all dead. I must move on and kill as many zombies as I can before I become one of them.

  37. 37
    ulee says:

    I’m off to bed with my pupdogs. They are better conversationalists than you all.

  38. 38
    Jason Stokes says:

    Why is this even viewed as corruption? The NCAA is already in all effective ways a for profit sporting franchise. The players are being rampantly exploited as the system stands. They should be recognized as the workaday professional athletes that they, functionally, already are and compensated above the table.

  39. 39
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Jason Stokes:
    This is to be discouraged because it involves athletes receiving money outside the NCAA’s control, which (a) means it’s not getting a taste, and (b) disrespects its authoritah as the controlling body of university sports.

  40. 40
    Betty Cracker says:

    This Oscar Pistorius trial is a fascinating glimpse into the South African justice system. I think he killed her on purpose, but he’s sorry about it now.

  41. 41
    Arclite says:

    @Betty Cracker: Why on Earth are you still up? It’s 10:45 where I’m at, so I have a reason.

  42. 42
    Betty Cracker says:

    Insomnia. Sometimes I can’t get to sleep at all, and sometimes I can go to sleep but can’t stay asleep. It sucks.

  43. 43
    Alien Radio says:

    Rule 35 exists. It states that if Porn of it DOESN’T Exist, then someone will create it.

    By this maxim I have established that most of the things that exist or could exist are porn and much like the observable universe the non porn portion is just a small fraction of the whole.

  44. 44
    RonzoniRigatoni says:

    @Betty Cracker: It’s the humidity and it’s too damned hot down here LOL

  45. 45
    Betty Cracker says:

    @RonzoniRigatoni: That’s the damn truth. The sun’s not even up, and it’s already 70 degrees with 94% humidity. I refuse to turn the a/c on in April, though. I try to make it to June but sometimes break down and turn it on toward the last half of May.

  46. 46
    drkrick says:

    @NotMax:

    f they are on scholarships, they are being compensated.

    Whether that is sufficient or proportionally commensurate compensation is open to debate.

    I’ll entertain that debate when someone shows me an athletic director, football or men’s basketball coach at a big time program who’s working for the cash equivalent of a scholarship. In what other part of the economy does the employer get to impose payment in the form of barter whether the employee wants to or is ready to make use of the non-cash compensation?

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