Cheating for Dummies: Your guide to smarter NCAA rule-breaking
Oregon's program sits in the NCAA's cross hairs because the athletic department paid scouting service operator/recruiting middleman Will Lyles -- who essentially admitted to Yahoo! Sports that he acted as a street agent -- with a $25,000 check. North Carolina's football program has a date with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions because former defensive tackle Marvin Austin got too descriptive on Twitter. Jim Tressel is currently unemployed because of a series of e-mails. Bruce Pearl isn't coaching basketball at Tennessee because someone snapped a photo of a recruit at Pearl's house, which was inconvenient since Pearl told the NCAA the recruit hadn't been at his house. USC's depth chart is thinner than Kate Moss because no one bothered to pay off the wannabe agents who kept Reggie Bush and his family living the good life while Bush played for the Trojans. All these cases point to a serious crisis in college sports.
Coaches and administrators have forgotten how to cheat. These things used to be taken care of with a few hundreds rolled into a handshake and a job for mom at the tractor factory down the road from the school. Now, it's amateur hour.
This isn't rocket science, people. The NCAA has what amounts to subpoena power over current athletes and current university employees. That's it. The NCAA's rules don't apply to anyone else. That opens an almost infinite array of cheating opportunities completely undetectable by the NCAA's enforcement cops. If you get caught cheating, you got caught because you're incredibly stupid.
So, as a public service to dishonest coaches everywhere, I'm offering these seven simple rules that will guarantee your clandestine activities will never rise above the level of message-board wives tale. Just think of it as NCAA Cheating for Dummies.
1. Always pay cash
This should seem simple enough. Cash is mostly untraceable. As long as it isn't deposited in unusually large quantities into the account of a player or a player's parent, the NCAA will not find it. Paper trails lead to trouble. When Oregon coach Chip Kelly agreed to pay Lyles for a bogus scouting service, Kelly probably didn't know that every University of Oregon transaction is published on the state of Oregon's website. He knows now. So don't use checks, wire transfers, gift certificates or any other form of currency. Don't even make anonymous donations to a handler's 501(c)3 charitable foundation, even though I know you basketball cheaters do this all the time. Simply use some of that green paper with Ben Franklin's face on it, and the NCAA will be none the wiser as long as you follow my other rules.
2. Nothing in writing
No major college football or basketball coach should have an e-mail address. If he does, he should never use it. That way, when a do-gooder such as former Ohio State player Chris Cicero sends an e-mail about the star quarterback and star receiver trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos, the head coach can be completely honest when he tells the NCAA: "I never saw that." If Tressel had ignored his e-mail during his Ohio State tenure, he'd still have a job. This rule applies to players, too. If an agent gives one of your players a South Beach shopping spree or a VIP night at some club that charges $12 for a Bud Light, make sure your players know better than to narrate in real time the receipt of impermissible benefits on Twitter or Facebook.
3. Keep the circle tight
Keep the circle tight, and pay everyone in the circle. Why did Alabama get caught buying Albert Means from his high school coach? Because an assistant who was part of the scheme didn't get his cut and ran to a newspaper. Why did USC get savaged by the Committee on Infractions? Because Bush was too greedy to pay Lloyd Lake the $300,000 he owed him, and the geniuses in charge at Heritage Hall decided that instead of passing the hat among the boosters and paying the man, they'd take their chances with the NCAA. Millions of dollars, 30 lost scholarships and two lost bowl games later, any able-bodied student at USC has a chance of cracking the Trojans' depth chart this season. Why did Lyles flip on Oregon and spill his guts to Yahoo! Sports? Because he was supposed to get another $25,000, and Oregon didn't pay. Always, always, always pay everyone. Which brings us to rule No. 4.
4. Always pay cash
I really can't stress this enough. If you deal with middlemen, one probably will blackmail you at some point. If you've followed these rules, you can blackmail him right back. The average street agent isn't going to report thousands in cash payments on his Form 1040. The NCAA can't subpoena a street agent's bank records and major purchase history, but the IRS can. Remind your middleman that while you may lose your job, you'll take him down with you with a strategically placed call to the 202 area code. An IRS investigation would allow the NCAA to piggyback and obtain public records to use against the street agent, so on top of the threat of fines and jail time, the street agent's business would dry up as other coaches shy away from another scandal waiting to happen. Besides, you won't be in hock to the middleman forever. The NCAA's statute of limitations is only four years.
5. Plausible deniability is your greatest ally
Butch Davis' name doesn't appear in the NCAA's notice of allegations against North Carolina despite what appears to be widespread corruption in the football program. That's because Davis -- as far as we know -- built enough walls to keep himself from getting tarred. Young assistants, remember this and you'll go far. The head coach never meets the money guy. He never meets the handler. He never meets the agent runners. All business is conducted through assistants and lower-level employees. That way, no one can count phone calls between the coach and the handler on phone lines whose records are public because of state open records laws. We know exactly how many times Tressel corresponded with Terrelle Pryor's handler, Ted Sarniak, and we know exactly how many times Oregon's Kelly called or texted Lyles. Head coaches, whatever you do, DON'T SEND THE HANDLER A HANDWRITTEN NOTE THANKING HIM FOR "ORCHESTRATING" SOMETHING. I'm looking at you, Chip Kelly. Follow this rule, and you can escape a scandal by sacrificing an assistant or an athletic department employee. Just remember the sacrificial lambs always must get paid. How do you pay the sacrificial lamb? See rule Nos. 1 and 4.
6. Always use a burner
Coaches, the NCAA knows about your bat phone. (Your wife probably does, too.) This is the personal phone you use when you want to get around the NCAA's worthless rule against texting recruits. If you get called to the carpet by the enforcement staff, they'll request the records for your work phone and your bat phone. That's why you need third, fourth, fifth and sixth phones. If you must violate Rule No. 5, take a lesson from
7. Always pay cash
Because who the hell pays a street agent with a university-issued check? That's like -- paying a street agent with a university-issued check.