Never in a million years would I have envisioned a player having to return their Heisman Trophy because of NCAA infractions. When I heard the news that the New Orleans Saints star running back and former USC standout Reggie Bush voluntarily forfeited the Heisman, I was somewhat shocked. To be sure, I am not taking up for Bush. Although he is an incredible athlete to watch on Sundays and Monday nights with the Saints, he was wrong for accepting money and other benefits from sports marketers during his tenure at USC. But, in fairness, it is relatively hypocritical to see the NCAA being an aggressive watchdog and enforcer, while concomitantly bringing in well over a half-billion dollars in revenue from college athletics.
It is safe to state that most stars in the big-money college sports such as football and basketball are African-American athletes who evolve from low-income and lower middle class status. Although these “amateur” athletes receive free tuition and education, room and board, and other benefits, most, if not all, of these stars remain significantly poor. Some critics and cynics would simply make the assertion that most college students are fiscally challenged. So, there should be no exceptions for student-athletes, even if they are the primary reasons why stadiums and arenas are jam-packed.
Do I disagree with the NCAA disallowing players from making money while they are students? Resoundingly, no! But, I do believe that the NCAA should implement at least several actions to help prevent even more major infraction cases, penalties and suspensions.
First, sports marketers are not regulated by the NCAA. This is a major problem. In a recent press conference, outspoken Alabama football coach Nick Saban stated that, “Agents should stop acting like pimps and instead act like grown men with integrity.” It is tragic that these “pimps” can provide star athletes with cash, employment, free professional and personal services, automobiles, homes, “bling” and other expensive items without any repercussions. Of course, some commentators would state that these star athletes should exercise self-control and not accept any of these items from agents. But, let’s be real. It is pretty difficult for these young kids who have no money to resist such temptations. The NCAA should regulate sports marketers, fine them for violations and stop expecting colleges to be responsible for these “pimps” interacting with their athletes.
Second, as Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples once stated, “If a school considers a player so special that it believes putting his number on a replica jersey will bring in more cash, the player deserves a piece.” It is relatively tragic when the replica jersey of a star athlete is sold for at least $50, and the actual athlete does not receive anything.
An exemplary case occurred recently with Georgia receiver A.J. Green. After the Independence Bowl on last year, the star SEC receiver reportedly sold his jersey for nearly $1,000 to an agent and was recently suspended for four games. Was Green wrong for selling his jersey for such a significant amount? Absolutely. Should Green receive some profits from the sale of his replica jersey in Athens, Georgia and around the nation? In my professional opinion, I think he should but only after his eligibility with the university expires.
Third, the NCAA should allow colleges to give decent stipends to student-athletes up to an agreed limit. With the NCAA consistently bringing in revenue over $700 million, most coaches at major Division I colleges making over $750,000 and colleges raking in millions, it is relatively unjust for players not to receive anything. I truly believe that the frequency of infractions will significantly decrease if these players are giving an allowance to help them get by.
Until these real issues are addressed, college athletes will continue to get pimped not only by agents but also by the NCAA.