This Saturday, I got a text from an old friend. Though he’s one of my two best friends, we rarely talk unless he’s in an argument and needs someone to help him settle it. In fact, his exact text was, “Call if you have a chance. Need to settle an argument.” It was minutes until my son’s birthday party and I was rushing through Kroger picking up last-minute items, panicked and sweating with still several things to do on my list. So naturally I called back immediately.
Here was his conundrum. He’d been watching a game with friends and he’d gotten into an argument over how many college players arrive at school with NFL dreams/expectations. Ryan’s contention was that only about half entertained thoughts of playing on Sunday; his friend said it was more like 90 percent. Without hesitating, I told Ryan he’d lost his bet. Then I told him this story.
In the fall of 2010, I flew with a group to Phoenix. We were there for a news conference announcing the first-year Eastham Energy College All-Star Game, which would be played the following January. As part of our visit, we went to the football offices at Arizona State University. It was a lot of fun to meet then-head coach Dennis Erickson, but there’s one thing I remember most about that trip. It was the wall outside the coaches offices. It was about 30 feet long and 10 feet high, and had on it a long, floor-to-ceiling frame. Mounted within this frame, taking up the whole wall, were half-shells of all 32 NFL helmets, gleaming and ominous. Beneath each helmet was a list of every Sun Devil who had ever played for that team. There were several names beneath each one. It was incredibly impressive, and seemed to dominate the office. I immediately posted it on my Facebook page and remarked on what a difference it must make in recruiting.
I remember one of the first comments under this post was from one of my agent clients, and it was something to the effect of, ‘every school has this in its offices.’ That was a real epiphany to me. Here’s why.
I marketed ITL to schools pretty heavily in the mid-00s, and was met with a brick wall. I presumed that they didn’t need me because they already did extensive work schooling their players and their parents on the league, and how things work, and what their players’ chances of playing NFL football were, etc. Later, I found out my presumption was all wrong. In fact, most schools I come across are quite light on educating about the draft process. They tend to take a three-pronged approach: (1) Keep your focus on the field, (2) you don’t need to talk to an agent and they’re all bad news anyway, and (3) all that stuff will take care of itself if you’re good enough.
To me this is horribly irresponsible. Still, there’s a bigger issue. It’s one thing to brush off the NFL when players are on their way out the door, but quite another if schools are using it to get players in the door. Clearly, players who might not otherwise have thought they were NFL caliber are, at the least, being given that hope, that possibility, by schools.
I’m not sure I’m in favor of paying scholarship athletes a stipend, as has gained major traction in recent years. However, do remember that wall of helmets the next time a school official somewhere goes on and on about ‘protecting kids,’ the purity of college football, and the homespun appeal of amateur athletics.