The League

Dave Goldberg
Sports Reporter

Dave Goldberg

Covered the NFL for the AP for 25 years and now is a senior NFL writer for Fanhouse.com

Heads in the sand

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Reggie Bush plays in the NFL. So do a lot of his former teammates at Southern Cal who received the improper benefits that left USC on NCAA probation and Pete Carroll unpunished, 1,000 miles away in Seattle taking $7 million a year to try to turn the Seahawks into a contender. He's just another guy who saw the sheriff coming to town and took off for a place where he doesn't have to pretend his players aren't pros.

The sleaze that permeates college football and basketball at the highest level is the result of a head-in-the-sand attitude that defines "students'' playing football and basketball as the same "students'' who go on to law or medicine or business. Yeah, and I've got a scholarship to give your 5-foot-6, 140-pound pre-med son.

The NFL and NBA aren't anywhere close to perfect. In the 27 years I've covered pro football, I've written stories on drugs, drunk driving, murders and other felonies, strikes, lockouts, antitrust suits, sleazy agents and just about every other vice. Plus, until recently, the casual regard for head injuries. But for the most part, the NFL is what it says it is -- an organization to oversee athletes paid large sums of money to entertain.

The colleges and the NCAA get the rap for this one.

Begin with the assumption of "student athletes.''

I was a "student athlete'' at a Division III school. I played a little football and a lot of baseball but it was for fun and the entertainment was for me and my teammates. The football team drew crowds of 3,000, the baseball team got 300 on a very good day and I got a good education, paid for by my parents and supplemented by what I earned writing for a local newspaper. I used to joke with a high-school teammate who was playing football at Miami and, even in those days, taking courses in what we laughingly called "underwater basketweaving.''

It's worse now at the top level because the money is so much greater.

The colleges, supplemented by "boosters'' who supply a lot of the cash, entice high school kids with the promise that four years (or less) will make them ready for the NFL or NBA, a fable that's true only in a tiny percent of the cases. Recruiting itself has become a cottage industry -- ESPN ranks players and televises high school all-star games -- swelling the heads of kids whose swelled heads often continue into their pro careers.

Then those that are talented enough are wooed by the sharks -- the agents and their agents ("runners'') who begin early to convince them that if they go with him they will make millions. I don't know how many kids leave college early and end up as sixth round draft choices after being told by agents for agents that they'll go in the first or second, but it's a lot. What does the NCAA do? Wring its hands and hand down occasional penalties -- usually to schools below the Southern Cal level -- for arcane violations.

The NFL?

Again, it doesn't pretend it's not in business to make money. The union registers the agents and on occasion has sanctioned and suspended them. But it can't follow the runners who seduce the college kids and it can't do much about keeping them off campuses and it certainly can't do anything about the adults who start telling kids at age 12 how special they are.

Talk to the NCAA. Talk to the college presidents and the college coaches, even the coaches in Pop Warner.

And pay the college athletes.

They're just as professional at the highest level as they are when the best of them reach the pros.

By Dave Goldberg  |  August 3, 2010; 11:33 AM ET  | Category:  College Football , Dave Goldberg , NCAA , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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