This is a guest post by Neil Stratton. Neil is President of Inside the League. He was the Executive Director of the 2008 Hula Bowl and Personnel Director of the 2007 Inta Juice North-South All-Star Classic.
By now, if you’re a regular reader of Sports Agent Blog, you’ve also read Josh Luchs’ piece published by Sports Illustrated Wednesday.
Like Darren, I’m sure, I had no idea Josh’s confessional was coming. Josh had told me at least a couple years ago that he was working on telling the story of his life in the business, that he would name names, and that it would be very provocative. I promised I would interview him when the book came out and give him an audience with my clients, and then never really thought about it again.
Then the texts and emails started coming in early Wednesday afternoon. Within an hour, I was sending out my own texts. “Have you seen it?” “Are you reading this?” “Can you believe this?” I just kept sending them, never identifying what “it” was, but no matter. As soon as I’d push ‘send,’ I’d be getting one back from an incredulous friend or client. I’m sure it was the same for Darren.
My clients at Inside the League are the professionals inside the college and football industry. They are the compliance officials and enforcers from schools in five conferences I have as clients; the marketing experts; the workout specialists; the financial planners; and, yes, the agents who have become my audience over the past 10 years. No doubt, some of them have engaged in similar practices to Luchs. That said, I think there is one thing all of them would agree on: the system is broken.
With that in mind, here are four realizations that need to be made.
Take Luchs’ story seriously. As Luchs himself admits, part of his truth-telling is done to establish credibility regarding his version of the incident that eventually won him an NFLPA suspension. That said, I know Josh, and I also feel it’s part of the maturity that comes with having a family. About five or six years ago, he and I stood on the turf of Ladd-Peebles Stadium after a midweek Senior Bowl practice. Both of us were nearing 40 with young kids, and we talked about the things men think about when they leave their 30s: what our impact would be, both on the world and on the people closest to us. This was pre-suspension, and already, I could tell Josh was doing some soul searching. I truly believe his confessional isn’t self-serving.
The problem is not as bad – – and much worse – than it seems: Obviously, not every player in college football is getting paid. Not even every NFL prospect. However, it seems safe to say that the top 100 college football prospects each year have all been solicited, and a major percentage of them (maybe half?) have taken benefits. What’s more, if you get a map and draw a line from Miami to Washington D.C., then to Dallas and back to Miami, you’ve drawn a triangle around the area where about 70 percent of payments take place. Obviously, most of the players that Luchs mentions are based on the West Coast, but there are probably 10 such stories that could be told by those who regularly recruit the Southeast. I remember once talking to an agent who recruits the Southeast regularly, and he called paying players “the price of admission” for representing student-athletes from that region. I never asked him if he paid that price.
Players need to stop being treated as innocents. To me, here’s the takeaway quote from Luchs’ story: “One of the misconceptions about the agent business is that the kids are victims, preyed on by people like me. When Alabama coach Nick Saban and others rail against the agent business, they don’t mention that most of the time the player or someone from his family approaches us.” It’s far too convenient to think of these players as children who must be protected. Many of these student-athletes have a sense of entitlement and that extends to the agent process.
It’s time to seize the day. There’s a perfect storm brewing right now. In the last three years, we’ve seen agent-related crises at Southern Cal, Alabama (twice), South Carolina and Georgia; the threat of a rookie salary cap that could remove the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for top picks and, by extension, their agents; the ascent of a new leader of the NFLPA; and now Luchs’ story. For the first time ever, the story behind the story of college football has been dragged out into the light. No school official can say everything’s fine, that the system flushes itself, or that what he doesn’t know won’t hurt his school.
Obviously, I’ve just skimmed the surface here; there’s so much more to say and to do to effect a real change in the business. My hope is that what we’re seeing and hearing right now is the beginning of an era of honesty in the agent-player community. I hope that’s not a naïve conceit.