Rule-breaking athletes need to be accountable
Posted November 4, 2013
Updated November 5, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — While NC State fans are no doubt uneasy about news that a former football player Eric Leak continues to be a concern for the school, there seems to be little question that campus leaders are taking measures to maintain institutional control.
A report by WRAL Investigates makes it clear that while the Leak situation will continue to create anxiety on both the rules and image fronts, there’s no evidence that State has been inattentive to the potential lurking damage.
As this story continues to unfold, Wolfpack fans and officials will ask themselves some of the same questions that have been posed at North Carolina, Ohio State, Southern Cal and any other school that has had to deal with agent/player contacts.
That question: How do you stop it?
The answer, unfortunately, is you probably can’t.
Shift Accountability to Athletes?
There are some radical cures being floated, the most popular of which is finding a way to put more of the onus on rules-breaking players.
One possibility in that regard is to completely revamp the scholarship agreement model, which essentially is a year-to-year casual contract between the school and the player (or player’s guardian in some cases).
If the scholarship agreement included a clause that made a player financially responsible for monetary and/or image damage that he or she knowingly brought upon the school, there’s little doubt that the extent of such rules violations would be decreased many times over.
But is it possible to incorporate such a clause into scholarship contracts? There’s much disagreement in the legal community. For one thing, the athlete would need to hire a lawyer before signing. Otherwise, such a contract almost certainly would be spiked by judges.
That said, the vast majority of the players who break the rules with agents understand what they’re doing when they’re doing it. In some cases, the athlete even initiates contact.
If UNC’s Marvin Austin or Southern Cal’s Reggie Bush knew they could have been sued for damages by their schools when they deliberately accepted illegal goods and money, there’s good reason to think they would have abided by the rules.
A more feasible solution might be to allow any college athlete to turn pro at any time regardless of the situation.
Here’s an example: After a great performance, let’s say an agent offered the athlete a $1 million signing bonus on the spot if he would quit the team immediately to avoid any injury risk during the remainder of the season.
Fans would be outraged, of course, but having the option to cash in on his accomplishments immediately might eliminate temptation for the athlete to break rules that would endanger the reputation of the rest of his team and the school.
Agents give college basketball and football players money and gifts for only one reason - to land future clients. But that business model doesn’t work well in most other sports. In tennis, golf, baseball, soccer, etc., the athlete can go pro straight out of high school. College golfers and tennis players can turn pro when they chose, even in the middle of a college season.
A third route is the one the state of North Carolina is pursuing by aggressively going after rules-breaking agents and agent intermediaries. If the legal consequences are severe enough, there’s reason to assume at least some agents will abide by the statues.
But under-the-table payments are almost impossible to stop, whether the donor is an agent or overzealous fan. That practice has been going for decades and no doubt will continue to some extent regardless of state or even federal laws. And paying athletes a salary will not stop illicit money from changing hands.
For now, NCSU seems to be doing its best to protect both its borders and reputation. But ultimately, the first and last lines of defense are the athletes. That aspect of the equation may never change.