How student-athletes can be smarter about their NCAA rule-breaking
As I sat and waited for the pork butts to finish their 16-hour cook, I grew more distraught. The date was July 4, 2011, and college football was in peril. The stories of the previous few months had been downright shocking. A hall of fame coach had gotten himself fired for lying to the NCAA about what his players were doing at a tattoo parlor. He got caught because he responded to a do-gooder's e-mail. Meanwhile, an otherwise brilliant coach had paid a recruit's handler with a check. A check!
It had become clear that in the highest echelon of college sports, coaches had forgotten how to cheat. People had been shattering the NCAA's rules since the organization was formed at the turn of the 20th century, but the attempts to break them had become so clumsy that it appeared coaches had lost their way. So before I shredded that pork, I wrote an instruction manual. Published the following day, this handy guide offered seven commandments that covered almost any violation of NCAA rules. I called it Cheating For Dummies*.
*We included a sweet graphic with the column, but months later we got a cease-and-desist from the people who make the For Dummies books. I reminded my bosses that Uncle Luke fought against Roy Orbison's publisher for every American's right to parody, but my bosses ceased and desisted anyway. So this seminal text is now only text.
Five years later, it's time for a second edition. The original Cheating For Dummies focused on the coaches. Cheating For Dummies 2: Student-Athlete Edition will focus on the players, who have less protection, less leverage and arguably more to lose. Since any arbitrary wage ceiling—such as the one created by the NCAA's extra-benefit rules—will always create a thriving black market, there will always be a group of people representing various interests who are willing to throw as many extra benefits as they can at the best players. This guide will explain best how to receive those benefits without getting a visit from NCAA investigators.
Before we get started, a disclaimer: Players, taking any of this stuff could jeopardize your eligibility and potentially destroy any dreams you have of playing in the pros. The safest bet is to follow the NCAA's rules, no matter how silly they are or how much they violate the Sherman Act. Your coaches take advantage of the shadow market by using it for your recruitment, which subsequently allows them to win more games and receive more over-the-table money. They also have legions of underlings who can be thrown to the NCAA wolves if something goes pear-shaped. You don't. You are the one who will suffer the brunt of the punishment if you get caught. So you probably shouldn't do any of this. But if you must …
1. Always take cash
We begin with the obvious. Gift cards and pre-loaded debit cards are easy to use and difficult to trace, but nothing is easier to use and tougher to trace than old-fashioned legal tender for all debts public and private. The best way to have said cash delivered? In an envelope in your mailbox that contains either no return address or a bogus return address. This eliminates meetings or drops that could later be used against you by the NCAA. It also takes most other human beings—we'll get to why these can be problematic later—out of the equation. Your letter carrier isn't particularly worried about what's in the boring envelope, and he or she would face more harsh punishment for messing with your mail than you would face for taking money. This negative incentive works in your favor.
This snail mail system might make it difficult to negotiate or anticipate payments and could wreak havoc on your budgeting and accounting, but it also protects you. When in doubt, make your mailman your bag man.
2. But don't post pictures of cash
This only arouses suspicion. In fact, don't take pictures of yourself with stacks of cash. First, your mom should have taught you that proper manners forbid showing off wealth. Second, the fastest way to get a case file at the NCAA office is to post a picture of yourself holding a large wad of bills ON THE FREAKING INTERNET FOR EVERYONE TO SEE.
Receiver Laquon Treadwell did himself and Ole Miss no favors in 2013 when he posted a photo of his hand on a stack of cash to Instagram days before he signed with the Rebels. Also in 2013, Texas A&M signee Justin Manning posted a photo of himself with a handful of green. When fellow Instagram users questioned Manning about the provenance of the cash, Manning pointed out that he was only holding $275. That came a few months after Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel, fresh off winning the Heisman, fanned out his cash for the camera at an Oklahoma casino.
By this point, these players were only engaging in a tradition that dated all the way back to the invention of the iPhone. In early 2008, Clemson offensive line signee Kenneth Page posted a photo of himself holding a fat stack to his MySpace page. Page would later explain that the photo was taken when he was visiting an uncle whose job entailed filling ATMs with cash. Three years later, Clemson tailback signee Mike Bellamy posted a photo of himself fanning a pile of bills. Bellamy would later explain that the money belonged to his aunt and he'd gotten excited because he'd never seen that much cash before.
Whether the cash belongs to you or a relative is irrelevant. Whether you earned it mowing lawns or took it from a booster is irrelevant. If you post a photo with it, the fans who suddenly care deeply about amateurism every time they think a rival program might be in trouble will spread that photo far and wide. Someone with a law degree is going to fly in from Indianapolis and ask all sorts of questions. So just remember that a gentleman never talks—or posts—about his money, and you'll probably never have to answer any questions.
3. Don't string along losers or hustlers. They will try to burn you
One of the biggest takeaways from Pete Thamel's story on the case the NCAA has built against Ole Miss is that Laremy Tunsil's former stepfather, Lindsey Miller, was really ticked about losing his meal ticket and decided that if he wasn't getting paid, he needed to burn down everything. You obviously can't control whom your parents marry, but you can control how much you interact with people who see you as a potential paycheck. This is more difficult in a situation such as Tunsil-Miller, but it is far less difficult when deciding how to respond to the waves of wannabe agents and marketers.
One misconception about major college sports is that most under-the-table payments come from boosters. In fact, most come from agents or marketers hoping to glom on to the next big thing. Are there established agents who use runners to funnel money to players? Sure. And these might be the safest of the bunch because they also have something to lose. But the majority of these people are trying to break into the business and need a comet they can ride to the big time. That comet, they hope, is you.
Most of these people have no certification—a state bar association membership or some other professional license—that could get yanked away if they're discovered. They would be subject to the agent laws in your state, but states have largely ignored violations of those laws because paying people for being good at football ranks fairly low on the list of reasons to use limited law enforcement resources in most jurisdictions.
Your problem is that the NCAA has no jurisdiction over these people, so it doesn't harm them a bit to turn you in for a litany of violations. If you take their money, they're going to expect you to sign with them when you turn pro. When you don't—and you probably won't—they're going to turn on you. Ask Reggie Bush. They'll make your life more difficult, and they could harm the careers of your younger teammates if the infractions result in NCAA sanctions.
4. Always take cash
If you must string along some wannabe marketing guy, demand hard currency. The last thing you need is a hustler with a paper trail.
5. Ride reliably—not extravagantly
The Miami Herald reported recently that Miami linebacker Juwon Young was suspended indefinitely for a case involving "the use of a luxury car*." Young probably won't be back. Had he been rolling in a 2009 Honda Accord, he might not have set off alarm bells in the compliance office. Accords and Toyota Camrys aren't cool, but no one will glance twice if that's how you choose to get from point A to point B. So if someone wants to reward your play with a vehicle or a rock-bottom deal on a vehicle, make that vehicle the choice of high-schoolers, (your fellow) college students, young families and grandparents everywhere.
*Dear people who give things to college athletes: If you are going to allow a college football player use of a Bentley or Aston Martin or whatnot, at least Google him first. This is the sort of perk that probably should go only to someone who is first-team all-conference or better.
If your ride changes every few months, people will notice. Among the reasons Tunsil got suspended for six games last season? Multiple loaner cars. At Ohio State, Terrelle Pryor remained on the NCAA's radar by switching cars. Stick to the Accord/Camry** plan, and this won't be an issue. Accords and Camrys rarely break down, so you won't need any loaners from the dealership. Does this take away the fun of driving a different car every three months? Sure. But it also lessens the chance of an NCAA inquiry similar to the one that Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has accurately compared to a colonoscopy.
**Linemen may want to opt for the also-acceptable but roomier used Ford F-150 option. Like the imports mentioned above, this Made In The USA beauty will run forever and won't arouse the suspicions of the junior NCAA investigators wearing T-shirts bearing your rival's logo. Plus, someone on the team has to have the cargo space to pick up kegs every once in a while.
6. Wipe all your devices
That shady marketing guy didn't just gave you a new phone and iPad out of the kindness of his heart. And when he offered to take care of your old ones, he didn't mean he intended to recycle them responsibly. Your entire life is on your devices, and if you are like most 21-year-olds, you have videos of everything on your phone. (Pro tip: Every bowl of kung pao chicken you consume need not be documented for posterity.) Every time you get a new device, wipe the old ones. That way you won't wind up like Tunsil on draft night, watching $12 million go down the toilet as a gas mask video plays on loop.
Memorize this. Settings>General>Reset>Erase All Content and Settings
And if someone insists on getting you a new phone, refer them to Rule No. 7.
7. Always take cash
Hopefully, it's enough to buy the phone and the conversion kit that will allow you to play it through the stereo of your 2010 Camry.
A random ranking
Today, we'll rank the top five steak cuts*.
3. New York (or Kansas City) strip
5. Top sirloin
*Since a porterhouse is a filet and a strip and a T-bone is a strip with a little tiny chunk of filet, you can extrapolate from these rankings where the combo cuts would rate.
1. Georgia tailback Sony Michel broke his left forearm Sunday, leaving his availability for the Bulldogs' season-opener in doubt. Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Michel sustained the injury while riding an all-terrain vehicle. Michel had surgery Monday, and he is expected to make a full recovery. The key question is how long that recovery will take.
Fellow tailback Nick Chubb is still recovering from knee surgery, meaning the Bulldogs could be without their top two backs for a tough opener against North Carolina in Atlanta on Sept. 3. The health of Chubb was a key question heading into the season. The injury to Michel only complicates the matter.
2. The scandal at Baylor has now cost the Bears half their 22-man 2016 signing class, and most of the defectors have chosen to play for Big 12 rivals. Here is a breakdown of who left Baylor's signing class and where they went:
OT B.J. Autry: Dismissed by Baylor
DE Brandon Bowen: Undecided
CB Parrish Cobb: Oklahoma
WR Tren'Davian Dickerson: Houston*
DT Jeremy Faulk: Dismissed by Baylor
WR Devin Duvernay: Texas
ATH Donovan Duvernay: Texas
OG Patrick Hudson: Texas
RB Kameron Martin: Auburn
DE DeQuinton Osborne: Oklahoma State
OT J.P. Urquidez: Texas
*Dickerson participated in spring practice at Baylor, so he'll have to sit out the 2016 season at Houston per NCAA transfer rules.
3. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe reiterated last week that the Cougars want to move to a Power 5 conference, but Holmoe also said the school would not change its policy against playing on Sundays to make such a move. The Sunday event ban doesn't affect football, but it could affect all the other sports. Still Holmoe told The Associated Press he doesn't believe the policy would be a deal-breaker. "That's up to the P5 conferences," Holmoe told the AP. "But I do know that it's something that we hold very sacred. We have never played on a Sunday and we're not going to play on a Sunday."
The refusal to play on Sundays didn't keep BYU out of the WAC, the Mountain West or the West Coast Conference (where its non-football sports currently reside). The NCAA, meanwhile, has bracketing guidelines in place to ensure that BYU's basketball teams aren't placed into Friday-Sunday sites during tournaments.
Sundays aren't the issue keeping BYU out of the Power 5. The problem is finding a Power 5 league that wants to expand. Of all the football programs currently outside the power conference, BYU probably has the best brand and the most loyal fan base. But that hasn't been enough incentive to entice a league to offer BYU. And given the recent move by the Big 12 to add a football championship game while remaining at 10 schools, it seems even less likely that any Power 5 league will be adjusting membership until after this current round of media rights deals ends in the middle of the next decade.
4. Want to start an FBS football program? It's pretty expensive, as Wichita State is learning.
5. Alabama recently self-reported five secondary violations to the NCAA. According to AL.com, one of the violations involved a trophy "temporarily placed in an area where prospects taking an official visit would be."
After perusing the NCAA's byzantine Division I manual, the issue appears to be the temporary move of the trophy.
184.108.40.206 Activities During Official Visit. An institution may not arrange miscellaneous, personalized recruiting aids (e.g., personalized jerseys, personalized audio/video scoreboard presentations) and may not permit a prospective student-athlete to engage in any game-day simulations (e.g., running onto the field with the team during pregame introductions) during an official visit. Personalized recruiting aids include any decorative items and special additions to any location the prospective student-athlete will visit (e.g., hotel room, locker room, coach's office, conference room, arena) regardless of whether the items include the prospective student-athlete's name or picture.
Ladies and gentlemen, the NCAA! (And the schools, which made the stupid rules in the first place!)
Here's a better rule: If program wins trophies, it can place those trophies wherever it damn well pleases whenever it damn well pleases. That would save everyone some time and paperwork.
6. David Ching at ESPN.com put together an interesting positional breakdown of signees from SEC states. Obviously, Texas has produced the most quarterbacks. But if you want a tight end, look to Georgia or Arkansas.
7. Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck took a wild ride in an Air Force jet this past weekend.
8. Speaking of flying, here's 265-pound Penn State tight end Nick Bowers.
9. And here's incoming Cal freshman receiver Demetris Robertson.
10. Michigan quarterback John O'Korn and his teammates show an appreciation for the classics.
What's eating Andy?
The Washington Post declared war on meat last week, and this aggression will not stand. One of the biggest issues, according to the Post column, is the environmental damage caused by the methane produced by the cows, sheep and goats, which would not otherwise exist if they weren't being farmed for food. Translated to English, it means the seas are rising in part because these animals fart too much.
We've built skyscrapers. We've split the atom. We've put people on the moon. Surely, our species can solve a flatulence-based problem before it cuts (the cheese) into our steak consumption.
What's Andy eating?
Late last week, I posted a few photos of dishes from my culinary adventures from the past few months to see which one should be covered in more detail in this section. First, we'll go through the runners-up.
The pizza at Fat Clemenza's in Destin, Fla.
The blueberry danish pancakes from Snooze in Phoenix.
The Cochinita Pibil from Barrio Cafe in Phoenix.
While the above choices were formidable, the photo that activated the most salivary glands was a shot of the macaroni and cheese from Randolph Beer in New York. This place, located near where SoHo meets Little Italy, serves burgers, sandwiches and small plates alongside a lovingly curated collection of craft beers. After visiting in May, I can offer this advice. Skip the burger, which is just fine, and double down on the small plates. Unless you go on an epic binge, you and your friends probably will get out for about $50 each, which is a bargain in that neighborhood for a full belly and a buzz.Andy Staples
That particular mac and cheese featured a creamy (but not soupy) blend of cheese, noodles thick enough to stand up to all that flavor and a pile of bacon lardons on top. If you read my old Heaven Is A Buffet blog, you know that the first commandment is this: There is nothing on earth that can't be improved by adding a few slabs of bacon. This is especially true when those slabs are crumbled and then mixed in with cheese and noodles and eaten between swigs of a coconut caramel chocolate brown ale called Dirty Little Freak.
The other must-order at Randolph Beer is the Evil Sprouts. After two generations spent as a cheap sitcom punchline, Brussels sprouts have enjoyed a renaissance. I avoided them for years because of their reputation, but after finally trying them it became obvious that sprouts are delicious as long as they're cooked with something other than simple steam. The Evil Sprouts are cooked with maple syrup and balsamic vinegar and mixed with those same bacon lardons that topped the mac and cheese. The result is something far too delicious to be a vegetable dish. Of course, the additional ingredients also negate the health benefits of the sprouts. Since the dishes at Randolph Beer exist mostly to soak up said beer, the primary concern isn't calorie counting.Andy Staples
And since you aren't counting calories, throw in a pretzel or two for the table to go with your mac and cheese and sprouts. Each pretzel is about the size of the average human head, and it comes piping hot with horseradish mustard and sauerkraut served alongside for dipping. Or you could just dip it into your glass of Dirty Little Freak. It can be your dirty little secret.