Are Former NFL Players Giving Future College Stars Bad Advice About Compensation?

By Gregory Moore
Updated: July 31, 2005

SAN ANTONIO — The other day while at an inner city gymnasium, I was privy to a conversation between a former player who is transferring from West Point Academy to the Division I college of his choice.

A friend of mine and former college coach, Elwood Plummer, and I were engaging with this young man about what were his plans and we undoubtedly got around to scholarship offers for him. This young man, who is very articulate in his thoughts, dropped a bombshell on Coach Plummer and myself when he said, “I’m looking at what school is going to give me the most money.” Now I want to protect the identity of this young man because his name isn’t going to be important to this story but the conversational quotes will be because he brought up a former NFL player. This young man, for this op/ed piece we will call him Darius, said that former NFL defensive back Merton Hanks told him and others that schools will give them money along with their scholarships.

“Darius, I think you got this wrong,” I said when he made mention of payola.

“No. That’s what he said and they allow that at the D-1 level.” “Darius”, coach Plummer began, “I think you have been told some very erroneous information. The NCAA doesn’t pay athletes.” “Coach, they have to. Why would he lie? We even signed contracts that stated that?” the young man said.

“You signed what?” I questioned. “Darius, somebody has lied to you big time. Do you know what happens if a school pays an athlete? Or if a booster does it and it is not within the guidelines of the NCAA rules? Your examples are numerous, son. Are you sure that’s what Hanks said?” “I’m quite sure.” Now I’m not going to hang Merton Hanks out to dry because I seriously doubt that from his lips came phrases that said that schools would pay athletes. I honestly believe that the young man I was talking to was so misinformed that he has started believing some of the old myths that many believe still belie in big Division 1 programs.

My questions are a little more pertinent about former athletes of these schools, namely the big time professional stars who still have big time ties to these schools. Are there pro athletes out there giving erroneous information about their alma mater because such ‘subsidies’ were available to them in the past and if so, how come the school administrators are not cracking down on these detrimental gifts and illegal programs sponsored by high powered alumni members?

Now Darius isn’t a bad kid. As a matter of fact he is probably one of the few kids I know who seem to understand that while things may have worked like that in the past, in today’s climate, big payolas simply are not going to work.

“Darius,” I said. “There are some major misnomers out there about college scholarships, what are available, how ‘extra’ money is actually obtained. But to get that extra money from a scholarship has never existed; no matter who told you it did.” What Darius and others do not know are the stringent rules about these scholarships. The NCAA’s guideline for Division 1 schools is a thick book and it something that I have always preached that parents of student athletes should have in their possession. This is the ‘bible’ of the NCAA and it would keep young men and women like Darius out of trouble with governing bodies.

It is the type of publication that compliance officers should have and use; despite the latest software out there. I have always believed in the assumption that knowledge is power; especially when it comes to college athletics, the rules by which programs are governed, and the fact that many parents are clueless on the very nuances of what is a legitimate gift accepted and what can put their child on the athletic shelf.

That is why Darius’ comments perturbed me so much that night. When he mentioned a former NFL player told him that such things were available, I had to question his information. I had to make sure that this young man understood exactly how wrong that information was and that he shouldn’t even be repeating such nonsense in public.

And just so that there is a little better clarification on this topic, for the service academies they do get paid; they get a stipend for being in the military. That’s what I think Darius is assuming would happen at other schools. That’s easy to do when nobody sits you or your parents down and help you understand the complexities of being a NCAA student athlete. It’s even worse if a professional athlete may give you that advice because it was given to him.

So I say to all of the Dariuses out there in the world: make sure you understand the upcoming handbook. Your athletic career at the collegiate level is grounded in that book. To the professional athletes who may be telling these young men and women falsehoods, let me say that you are not helping them by giving them false pretense.

Just because you may have gotten away with breaking the rules of accepting gifts and such during your career doesn’t mean that upcoming students will be able to do the same. Don’t cost these young men and women a chance at being something special just because you think the schools are being greedy. The problem goes beyond that.

Maybe one day the NCAA will adopt a rule in which student athletes can get ‘paid’ a fair wage for being athletes at the collegiate level. But until then, they will have to abide by some rules and regulations that they don’t agree with. For a young man like Darius that may be tough but at least it’s across the board and it’s fair.