We are halfway through SI's expose of Oklahoma State, and the nation's attention span has long since lagged. We were all itching to get to the next topic anyway, as most of us don't really have a whole lot investing in pretending college kids don't like weed and sex.
Then along came Charles Robinson, who showed everybody how to do an investigative report.
His article is everything Thayer Evans' is not. It was released with little fanfare, and despite covering quite a bit of ground, he managed to keep it to one column. More importantly, Robinson relies heavily on physical evidence and goes out of his way to show his work. Looking at the reaction to the pieces, it also seems that Robinson was upfront and honest with his interview subjects, as well as the schools involved. Evans tried to play a game of gotcha, only to see people start tugging at the loose threads as soon as the story went public.
I do think Robinson's story shows two important things: (1) preventing players from signing with a reputable agent early encourages this kind of underhanded behavior on the part of less scrupulous agents and (2) this isn't really an Alabama story.
You'll find no more committed hater of Alabama than me. I would love nothing more than for the NCAA to bring down the banhammer on Tuscaloosa and slap a show cause order on Nick Saban. That would be glorious, and it is also not going to happen. At least, not based on this story.
This is a story about how agents get kids to sign with them by feeding them money and benefits while they are still in school and unable to sign on the dotted line. It is not about a school gaining a competitive advantage by offering players impermissible benefits. It appears this happened without the knowledge or the consent of the Alabama coaching staff. On top of that, it's not like the payments were to benefit Alabama, they were to benefit an agent to get that nifty commission off of a first round talent.
I also know this is how USC got busted, so maybe the NCAA comes down hard on Alabama. But given the NCAA's current struggles with doing anything right now, I have my doubts. And, to be fair, USC fans are right when they point out that their school shouldn't be punished for the actions of an agent who is not working for the benefit of the university. According to NCAA rules, Alabama could be in some hot water, but it's a silly rule and a bad precedent.
Now, the perfect punishment is forcing Alabama to vacate their titles because, well, that would just be funny. Making Alabama the ultimate Team Asterisk would give me the warm fuzzies, but the NCAA does not exist to give me the warm fuzzies. Fluker getting paid had nothing to do with competition and a level playing field. I'm hard pressed to see what advantage Alabama gained here.
As much as this hurts me to say, I'm kind of in Alabama's corner on this one. Robinson's reporting is first rate, but it shows the corruption of sports agents, not of SEC football. His story highlights how desperately we need to change the rules. Even if we do not pay the players or allow them to sign endorsements, the idea that a school gets punished for the actions of an unaffiliated third party who doesn't act in their interest at all is just absurd.
Sports agents certainly need to be regulated, and there does need to be some accountability from the schools. But it is plain to see that agents are not boosters, and their interests do not coincide with the school's. The system of enforcement needs to change to actually punish the wrong-doers. Punishing Alabama for the actions of an agent does nothing to dissuade agents in the future.
That's right, I'm so committed to reform that I'm actually siding with both USC and Alabama. I'm going to go throw up now and buy a Johnny Manziel autographed jersey for this weekend.
I may hate Alabama, but systemic change matters more.