Agents are a problem everywhere.
They’re a problem at University of Southern California, which now has a two-year postseason ban because former player Reggie Bush took money from an agent.
They’re a problem at Georgia. And they’re a problem here.
Yes, here, at Indiana University.
A recent tell-all Sports Illustrated story about former agent Josh Luchs shows how widespread the problem is.
Former IU cornerback and current NFL free agent Ray Fisher said he was offered money from an agent while he played for the Hoosiers. He never accepted anything, he said, but the calls from agents were overwhelming.
I asked Fisher if he ever saw any of his teammates taking money from agents.
“Nah, I can’t talk about that now,” he said.
Read into that what you will.
Antwaan Randle El, a former IU quarterback and current Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, said the situation was similar when he was in Bloomington between 1998 and 2001. Agents often dropped notes by his apartment or dorm room and several offered him money, he said.
The agents didn’t offer him large sums of money, Randle El said, just “$400 or $500 dollars a week.”
“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “You have to know that you can’t go down that path. It takes your mind away from football and distracts from what is really important.”
It’s not fair to put all of the blame on these athletes, though. These are young kids, and there are situations where I can understand why taking the money might be enticing.
What about the kids who grow up in inner-city Indianapolis with absolutely nothing? They come to IU with a scholarship that pays for their education, housing and food, but what about the other things? These kids want to go out with their friends, they want to go to the movies, they want to take their significant others on a date.
An IU football scholarship is something similar to this, according to several current players: All classes and textbooks are paid for.
On the road, at the stadium and other places, all food is paid for. The athletes also receive approximately $800 a month for housing and other things.
If the players don’t use all of that money to cover housing bills and food, they can use it on whatever they want. These numbers aren’t nearly as high as other schools, such as Georgia and USC, according to a story by Gregg Doyel of www.cbssports.com.
The problem is some football players don’t have any money for those extra “fun” things or any way of getting it. Their parents can’t throw anything in, and they aren’t allowed to get a job during the season to earn money.
So an agent comes by and offers a few hundred dollar bills. Tempting, isn’t it?
“For them, it becomes very tough because they would like to take that money and help their family out,” Randle El said. “They are affected more so than the agents. These are young men that don’t fully understand what they’re doing.”
IU junior wide receiver Tandon Doss said he can understand why other athletes might accept that money.
“It’s tough being a student athlete. If your family doesn’t have that much money, you still gotta pay rent and get food,” Doss said. “It’s definitely tempting, but you have to keep your mind focused on football and worry about an agent later.”
With the same token, though, these athletes are students similar to the rest of us. They have classes, they have homework, they have challenges.
The difference is they won’t have thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off after school.
Schools can’t pay these athletes — doing so will not solve the agent problem. How much do you pay them? Does everybody get the same? What about walk-on players? What sports are excluded? Where are you getting the extra money?
What is a serious problem now would be multiplied ten-fold if college athletes were paid to play.
Again, these players are students just like the rest of us.
“The student athletes do an awful lot for the University, but sometimes I think it’s lost how much the University does for the student athletes,” IU Athletics Director Fred Glass said. “You walk out on the other side with a fully paid-for education from a terrific university.
"I don’t think paying the players is the answer. I certainly wasn’t a student athlete, but I had no money (in college). I remember literally going through the couch looking for change so I could buy a 19-cent box of macaroni and cheese that I made with water instead of milk because I couldn’t afford milk. I would fry up a potato and eat it with bleu cheese dressing because that’s all I had. College is about making do. With a fully paid education at your back, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the athletes to make do.”
Randle El agrees that college players should not be paid. He does believe, like I do, that something should be done to make that agent money less tempting.
“I would try to configure a way to give the players something extra beyond just their scholarship,” Randle El said. “Some kind of stipend, some kind of something. That would give them extra money coming in to support themselves.
Everybody thinks that ‘you have your scholarship and that’s enough.’ Well, it’s enough that they pay for room and board. But there’s always things outside that you don’t have, or your family don’t have. And there are things that you want, and there are things that you need as a college player.”
There is no clear way to keep agents, who continue to become more sophisticated and sneaky, away from college athletes.
I’m not going to propose any one solution because I don’t want to pretend I have all the answers.
Agents are always going to offer money, and some players are always going to accept it.
In my mind, the only thing Glass and coach Bill Lynch can do at this point is exactly what they have been doing.
Educate the players on what to look out for. Keep an eye out for suspicious purchases, like a brand new Corvette parked outside a small house.
Glass can’t take it to the level of “Big Brother,” but he has to protect this program. He can’t be expected to know that a player’s aunt is living in a huge house in Arkansas, but he has to be as alert as possible.
What happened with programs like USC can happen anywhere, even here at IU.
I see Saturday’s contest at Illinois as the potential turning point in the Hoosiers’ season.
If they are able to pick up their first Big Ten road win since 2007, their confidence will be sky-high heading into home games against Northwestern and No. 13 Iowa.
The problem is, Illinois is a much better team than most anticipated before the season. The Fighting Illini seem to have found a winning formula with a good running game and a strong defense.
IU will put up a good fight, but Illinois will milk the clock late with its rushing attack, and the Hoosiers will be 0-3 in conference play.
Illinois 28, IU 20