These extremes include the fact that at most big-time universities the athletic department is, in effect, an entity separate from the school. It determines its own budget, it selects its own students, it hires its own "faculty." The autonomy of the athletic department demonstrates the schizoid nature of schools that play big-time football. Universities want to turn out educated, ethical, well-rounded young adults. Athletic departments want to make a buck. Period. The best way to make money is by winning. (Please note that people don't follow big-time football per se; they follow big-time winners. Whenever people say, "God, I love Nebraska football," what they mean is, "God, I love Nebraska's won-lost record.") The school, with all its quaint rules and regulations about eligibility, progress toward a degree and ethics, stands squarely in the way of winning.
And winning—let me make this clear—is wonderful. It is one of the main reasons we play games. Losing is O.K., as long as you play to win. That's the key—playing to win, honoring your opponent by doing your best. Games and athletic associations have rules, so competitors know how far they can go in their quest for victory. But you cannot, on the one hand, reward only winners and, on the other hand, expect athletes and coaches to behave as gentlemen, to play for the sake of playing, the way 19th century English aristocrats believed people should play.
The unethical and unenforceable amateur code guarantees an endless flood of transgressions—as long as winning is the main concern. During the Walters-Bloom trial, Bloom's attorney, Dan Webb, defended his client by attacking the offended universities. Webb argued that it is hard to defraud institutions that are frauds themselves. He made college officials squirm on the stand by forcing them to recite the academic records of some of their star players.
George Swarn, a Miami of Ohio running back from 1983 to '86 took college courses in basketball and racquetball—to meet his eligibility requirements. At Temple, Webb discovered, former All-America running back Paul Palmer flunked remedial writing three times, completed no classes in his major and failed or withdrew from every course he took his senior year. Among the classes that Palmer, who recently was signed by the Detroit Lions, did complete were bowling, racquetball, human sexuality, leisure and adjusting to a university. Before Webb revealed Palmer's academic shortcomings, Temple president Peter Liacouras angrily struck Palmer's 1986 statistics from the school record book because that year Palmer had taken money from Walters, even though his amateur career was not yet complete. Liacouras did not mention Palmer's academic record, however. Presumably he was satisfied with Palmer's work in that area.
Sports agent Mike Trope had planned to testify for the defense at the Walters-Bloom trial, but for technical reasons was barred from doing so by Judge George Marovich. Trope was going to say that in 1984, when Bloom began representing athletes, the vast majority of collegians selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft had agents before their eligibility expired and had taken loans from those agents in violation of NCAA rules. In 1987 Trope wrote a book called Necessary Roughness, in which he details the back-room dealings of agents—including himself—and college stars. The universities, he implies, know all about these shenanigans but turn a blind eye as long as word of the dealings doesn't get out and embarrass them. That's precisely what happened with Walters and Bloom—they embarrassed the colleges by getting caught and thereby exposing the charade.
In his book Trope justifies what he and other agents did: "I still don't think it's unethical for a college player to consult or sign with an agent before his last college game. I think it's okay if he does it as a junior; by then it's hardly too early to be thinking about a shot at the pros. An agent or a business manager or financial advisor—at least a responsible one—is in business to protect a player's self-interest. To assume that it's wrong for a player to seek an advisor before his last college game is to assume that his best interests are being looked out for by someone else, namely the school. That's a theory that colleges like to promote. It's a false theory."
Trope also notes that colleges do not provide athletes with workmen's compensation insurance or insurance against loss of future earnings resulting from injury or a share in the profits made by the team. He concludes by writing, "I consider the collegiate system one of the greatest forms of labor exploitation in America."
Look, I didn't set out to align myself with the dregs of the football world. I wouldn't trust Walters or Bloom with 10 cents of my own money. But these profiteers, by slipping through the ethical holes in the college football system, made us confront our hypocrisy. They know what's going on. They know that when you play big-time college football, you're a pro.
They also know that you are a poorly paid pro. You are not allowed to be given spending money, laundry money, movie money or airfare to go home for your mother's funeral. You also are not allowed to hold a paying job during the school year. So if your parents aren't wealthy, or if you couldn't save enough money from your summer job—and, remember, to be a good player you should spend most of your summer working out, not working—then you are an economic prisoner on a campus that more than likely has lots of rich kids with nice clothes and hot cars.
For my last three years at Northwestern, 1969 through '71, I delivered pizza for a buck a pie plus tips for the Spot, a carry-out joint a few blocks from my dorm. Doing so was a violation of NCAA regulations. I did it because I wanted spending money and because I was hungry and could eat all the food I wanted while I was working. I knew that what I was doing was against NCAA rules, and I can tell you what that meant to me. Zip. Nada. It was so clear how phony the rules were that any player on the team would have broken any of them in a flash if he figured he could get away with it. Such is the lesson of hypocrisy. I learned it. Every college football player learns it.