The problem with the NCAA isn’t its mission, but its credibility and believability. Its track record.
So after two years of investigating Oregon over its use of the supposed scourge of the world, street agents, the NCAA came out with a guilty charge Wednesday. Oregon’s penalty? No ban from bowl games. Loss of one scholarship per year for three years. A few other little things.
This wasn’t so much a slap on the wrist as a kiss on the cheek.
Also, Chip Kelly would have to go through a committee if he wants to coach in a college again before Christmas next year. Consider that he just started as the Philadelphia Eagles’ coach. Basically, it’s like grounding your kid for four hours just as he goes to bed at night.
All punishments are meant as statements, and reading this one’s depends on your level of belief in the NCAA. It means:
1) The NCAA is changing its mind on street agents, deciding they aren’t that bad after all and not worth serious punishment.
2) The NCAA is so weak and ineffective now, after botching the Miami investigation and facing the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, that it couldn’t risk showing that it doesn’t have teeth anymore.
Or 3) No matter what the NCAA thinks of street agents, it couldn’t send a strong message against them because it couldn’t punish its own financial interest at Oregon, aka Nike University.
In any and all of those cases, the winner is …
Sonny Vaccaro. For years, these have all been his fights. You remember Vaccaro, right? He might have been the beginning of street agents. He’s the guy who started the shoe wars, getting big shoe deals for colleges and their baskeball coaches while setting up national high school basketball camps as showcases.
He talks about the benefits of street agents, and has all-but changed my mind on the subject over the years. He talks about the NCAA’s conflicts of interest and its inability to punish some schools. And he has basically been trying to take down the NCAA.
Vaccaro wins. What did he think of the punishment Wednesday? Well, I told him about it in the morning. His first reaction was to laugh.
“I don’t know if everything the NCAA says happened, happened,’’ he said. “I don’t trust the NCAA. But this verdict here gives credibility to my theory that maybe all these people (street agents steering high school players to colleges) aren’t who the NCAA has always pointed them out to be.’’
If the NCAA doesn’t have the teeth to stand up for what its mission is, then I’m not sure what keeps the NCAA afloat.
But let’s start with the street agents. They are just guys who somehow emerge from the underbelly of the sports world and steer kids. Oregon was accused of paying Will Lyles $25,000 for his recruiting service and getting special access to kids, whom he helped deliver to the Oregon football team.
Sounds slimy, right?
“Just because they’re outsiders, close to the kid, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad for the kid,’’ Vaccaro said. “Maybe people who help some of these kids or even people who help schools aren’t the worst people in the world.
“They’re termed street agents, greedy fathers, greedy mothers, greedy high school coaches. I don’t know what crime they’re committing, other than a self-made rule by the NCAA that they violated some self-made moral code.’’
This is the argument Vaccaro has been pushing for years, that having a middle-man representing kids between high school and college could actually be a good thing for kids. I’ve actually argued with Vaccaro about this off and on for years, telling him once that we don’t need these slimeballs getting their hands on our kids.
Honestly, I’m having a hard time remembering the rest of my argument anymore.
“You said a lot there,’’ Vaccaro said.
This has been his message, and if it’s not taking in the mainstream, it’s starting to take with me. What exactly is the reason a high-school kid can’t have an agent?
Are all parents equipped to best handle the onslaught of dozens and dozens of recruiters from colleges, all claiming they know what’s best for their kid? All making sales pitches? There is a lot at stake here, and not just all the money schools and the NCAA are pulling in.
There is also the future of a child, right? Maybe a parent could use a little help figuring things out.
As Vaccaro says: No one else is looking out for the kids’ interests. It’s unclear exactly what bad things Lyles did, too. Yahoo! Sports reported how he maneuvered things around to help a few of them get into Oregon, including one who might not have made it to college at all.
I’ve heard worse.
The problem is that the college sports world is overwhelmed with slime, and maybe parents are going to have to get their hands dirty to do what’s best. The NCAA rulebook is not set up to reflect modern reality. In fact, the NCAA knows that, but is so tied up in its own red tape that it’s having a hard time making changes.
Maybe some more legit agents can pop up if the NCAA stops legislating this so heavily.
The question is whether the NCAA just gave up the fight against these agents. Next time a coach pays off an agent, how is the NCAA going to crack down?
Now, Vacarro has talked before about schools being too big. Untouchables. He has talked about Auburn being able to keep playing Cam Newton, and Ohio State allowed to play its bowl game.
He used to work for Nike. And he’s a little hesitant to talk, as he’s involved heavily in O’Bannon’s antitrust suit against the NCAA.
So how about it? Is it possible that the value of Nike to college sports just happened to outweigh the negatives of street agents?
“I’m not going to get into that, OK?” Vaccaro said.
No, that’s not OK. This is your fight, and you’re winning it.
“My personal opinion, I just think that I can’t believe the penalty for what supposedly happened,’’ he said. “A lot of weight is carried from great universities. Not just Oregon. Whatever the penalty is, though, Oregon … they’re a hell of a university. They’re powerful. They’re good.’’
So Nike U theoretically paid for a street agent. And it took the NCAA two years to claim “GUILTY’’ and kiss Oregon on the cheek for it.
The NCAA is just so tangled up now that it’s having trouble finding its own conscience.