BY BUDDY MARTIN GATORBAIT EDITOR
Sometimes I feel ignorant, other times I wonder if I know too much. How can this be? If I say “college football recruiting” and “cheating,” do they go together like peanut butter and jelly or Batman and Robin? How much cheating is real or rumor these days? Is it just an accepted practice that we wink at? And does anybody care anymore? When is the “truth” not the truth? That’s the problem today with lots of things, including politics. You know the old axiom: Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, must be a duck. Today’s response would be, “What duck?” We all think we know about college football and basketball programs buying or bribing players and there is no doubt that it has gone on before and continues to do so, but at what pace and what degree? And where? Let me be up front: There is no way I can crack the code on cheating in recruiting. Nor am I and going to try. But if we don’t talk about it, acknowledge it and stop embracing the hypocrisy of it, then we are doomed to keep repeating it. So at the very least we start here. “Everybody breaks the speed limit,” writes my friend Tom. “But only certain people get caught.” I love college sports, especially college football, and I don’t wish to discredit, dent it or destroy it. I don’t know for certain who the worst cheaters are in college football, but like you, I have heard stories from credible sources, and in some cases seen documented cases. But I’m not sure if it’s better or worse today under to neutered version of the NCAA, which many people already feel is a current sham of a governing agency and is pretty much an abject failure. On the other hand, it’s a little bit like being mayor of ungovernable New York City. It’s still the Big Apple in all its glory, warts and all. You gotta keep trying. I’m not interested in engaging the modern version of Woodward & Bernstein to do a blowout investigation of what we all already know to be a perplexing fact: Everybody cheats in college football and basketball recruiting, mostly with money and things that money can buy -- sometimes influence. For whatever reason it can’t be policed and most people have come to accept it or just look the other way. “It’s like some fans say, ‘All those coaches making all those millions? Why should I worry about a kid getting a car?’ said my friend Tony Barnhart, aka Mr. College Football. We rarely hear or read about the cheaters or cheating -- except as cheap gossip at a cocktail party or bar or the rumor mongers of the Internet. I’ve just never understood why we can’t just talk about it, even if we can’t fix it. So this week I started out on a journey, posting the following Facebook and Twitter messages: (I have received a modest written response on social media and the nightly streamed Buddy Martin Show.) SO WHO’S GOT THE SCOOP ON CHEATING IN CFB? Even though I’ve been around the game all my life, I still don’t know the answer to this: Is cheating just an accepted practice in college football? And if you say yes, can you prove it? Do you have first-hand knowledge of players receiving money or goods? We’ve all heard stories about new cars and cash and special favors, but what do we really know? Do you have proof? I’m not naïve enough to think it’s not a frequent practice with so much money flowing under and above the table. I’m on a mission to educate myself over the next year – not so much looking for scandal as I am trying to discern the process and how commonplace payoffs are today. Are there bagmen dressed up in three-piece suits? Where does the money come from, where does it go and who decides? How do head coaches have plausible deniability and keep their distance? If you have information, evidence or bonafide stories and evidence, share them with me here – or DM me. (Or email me GatorBaitEditor@gmail.com) I have been talking to former college and high school coaches, most of whom are reluctant to point the finger. I don’t need your innuendo or fabrication about your rival school. Share what you can, if you can, and be willing to point in a direction as I educate myself about: Cheating in College Football Recruiting: Fact or Fiction? I intend to keep asking and talking and writing about this topic in some fashion for the next year without obsessing over it. Maybe it will turn out, as Mr. CFB said, that it’s a case of hardly anybody caring about it. It would certainly appear that way when the FBI has already fingered two big name basketball coaches (Sean Miller of Arizona and Will Wade of LSU) have been exposed by the FBI and are still coaching. There’s a lot to not understand here. So a embark on a tour of curiosity. At this writing I’ve talked to about 10 people and I intend to keep talking, expanding that circle and the dialogue from it in the next year -- simply because it’s too important NOT to at least have a conversation about, even if it’s not an investigative piece with empirical evidence. So far I have chatted with a half dozen writers, two former college coaches, one high school coach and several broadcasters. In the coming weeks I will speak to two more former college coaches, one current one, two high profile journalists, and continue asking readers of GatorBait and listeners to The Buddy Martin Show about it. One former major college coach who has been a critic of the system now says he believes there is often a lot of smoke but not so much fire. Assistant coaches under pressure who lose prized recruits will sometimes accuse rivals of buying players “just to have an excuse to cover their asses,” he says. As for the idle chatter, “a lot of them talk about it, but when you try and pin them down they have no proof.” Yet one prominent college football writer who has covered the game for four decades says he has known first-hand of players being paid off, but that the NCAA won’t come after the schools unless it’s egregious. “EVERY body cheats to one degree or another,” he said. “And I mean EVERY one. Some more than others.” Take the high profile case of Cam Newton, who was about to be kicked out of Florida for owning a stolen computer, went away to JUCO and came back to shop his wares in the SEC. His father reportedly put Cam on the open market, asking Mississippi State a certain sum for Cam’s talents. Pete Thamel, then of the New York Times, wrote a story about it quoting the person who said he was brokering the deal: “The star Auburn quarterback Cam Newton will likely face greater N.C.A.A. scrutiny after a series of allegations by Kenny Rogers, a recruiter with financial ties to an N.F.L. agent, that could affect Newton’s eligibility Rogers said Thursday on ESPN Radio in Dallas that Cecil Newton Sr., Newton’s father, wanted “anywhere between $100,000 and $180,000” for his son to sign with Mississippi State, which would be a violation of N.C.A.A. rules. Rogers said he called a Mississippi State booster to attempt to broker the deal.” Of course Newton wound up at Auburn where they won a national championship. And the next logical question was “how much”?
“How much ever it was, it was worth every penny,” said a former coach recruiter at Auburn (not during the Cam era, however), FSU, Ole Miss and several other schools. “And they got a bargain.” There are two kinds of cheaters, said another source: “Caught and uncaught.”
The “bagman” is sometimes connected to a rich booster. The cash transaction, say my sources, is usually done by an assistant coach, who funnels money to a person or entity for, say,15 percent off the top. Supposedly that assistant works independently of the head coach so that the head coach can claim “plausible deniability.” The so-called “bagman” won’t turn in the school because he never claimed the money to the IRS. One former coach said that the “15 percenters” have even been churches, who more or less “launder the money” and dispense it to the family of the recruit. As I said, these are just probable scenarios offered by credible sources, but unproven and undocumented. That’s just a taste of one schematic in the Anatomy of a Cheater. I’m not sure where it goes from here. But if you have first-hand knowledge of cheating in recruiting that you can document, write me at GatorBaitEditor.com.