Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
Agent Josh Luchs confirms in a Sports Illustrated cover story this week what most college football fans already suspected: That many of the best players in the game are pocketing cash that their schools don't know about (and in some cases, don't want to know about). It's a startlingly honest account of how routine the practice has begun, and it's sure to reignite the debate over whether players should be compensated.
I was struck by how matter-of-fact a lot of the players were about breaking NCAA rules, and how eager agents are to pass that cash around, in hopes of getting the money back by representing the player when he turns pro. If that's the prevalent attitude of the star players, if they have no hesitation about breaking rules and lying about it, what chance does a coach have of running a clean program?
"It's really hard," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said Wednesday. "You just have to do a good job of educating the guys. You make sure they know that a poor decision by them affects the whole team," an appeal to conscience and peer pressure that the coach admits stands little chance against the allure of easy money.
"Some of these young men have never had a penny to their name. Some are from poor situations," he said. "When they think they can help their family with some money, it's an extremely strong temptation."
That's why Brewster said he is in favor of stipends for athletes on scholarship, especially in sports like football where classwork, daily practices and regular workouts make it impossible for a student to hold a job, too.
"I don't think we do enough for the college athlete, particularly the college football player, from a financial standpoint," he said. "We have to look at ways, from an NCAA standpoint, of helping our players a little bit more. That would help deter some of the things that are going on with agents."
So would stiff penalties for agents caught paying amateur players, he said, but that would require the help of the NFL Players Association, which regulate agents.
Boosters used to be the main source of payoff problems at universities, but years of penalizing schools and forcing them to keep boosters at a distance have drastically reduced those violations. Now agents are the problem.
Brewster once had former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt address his team on the dangers of associating with agents, "but that's about all you can do. Educate the people who surround your program of the do's and don'ts," Brewster said. "You can't have your head in the sand and say 'That's not going on at my place.' "
A few more notes as the Gophers prepare for perhaps the most winnable game left on their schedule:
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