Posted by Adam Jacobi
Lonnie White, a former USC wide receiver and kick returner, wrote at TheDaily.com on Thursday that he frequently received large sums of money while he was playing for the Trojans in the mid-'80s. White, whose name is probably more familiar to California residents as a longtime Los Angeles Times writer (a skill on display in his article here), said he received a total $14,000 in illegal payments. He detailed one $5,000 transaction, saying he waited in "an empty lot ... sitting alone in a parked car late at night" and that he was given a "small brown bag filled with money."
That part in and of itself is a bit troubling, but not entirely surprising; the big thing there is that there's someone willing to put their name to it (and under no pressure to do so) instead of it being the stuff of rumor or allegation. No, the real key to White's story is that according to him, this type of behavior was commonplace across generations -- and he has his family to back him up. White's father Elwood told him such bending of the rules was prevalent at Morgan State as far back as the late '40s, and White's older brother Tim also played for USC's football team and introduced him to their "money man" in Lonnie's first year on campus:
We would use the meeting as a joyous occasion, but for most of my freshman year, I didn’t exactly know how the process worked. This was before cell phones, and my brother kept me in the dark when it came to details. I just remember taking a variety of items, from signed footballs to player-issued season tickets, to our benefits source in exchange for money, usually cash.
Even though I knew what I was doing was wrong, it seemed like everyone I knew who played college football enjoyed some type of extra benefits as a player.
Fortunately for USC, this story isn't going to lead to NCAA investigators hounding the White family and the USC athletic department for details. The statute of limitations for NCAA violations (absent a continuing pattern of repeat violations) is four years, so unless the NCAA finds a pattern of misbehavior going back 25 years, this is irrelevant to their current casework -- and let's be honest, if the NCAA finds that type of historical rule-breaking with USC, that program is getting nuked regardless of what White says.
Also, the Trojan athletic department and coaches, which White doesn't implicate, would catch the most heat in situations like these. Here's what White had to say about why the coaching staff doesn't merit criticism in this instance:
It must be noted that all this went on without the coaches’ knowledge. That seems hard to believe. It is true, though. At major programs, the pressure to win and the time commitment the coaches put forth toward the program itself leaves major opportunities for players to interact with people who have a different agenda.
That's a valid and underreported point. When North Carolina head coach Butch Davis tells NCAA investigators that he had no idea John Blake was a prolific runner for Gary Wichard while coaching for the Tar Heels at the same time, he probably meant it ... and the NCAA (no shrinking violet when it comes to sanctions, as USC can attest) clearly believed him, opting not to hit UNC with the dreaded Lack Of Institutional Control in its notice of allegations earlier this week.
At the same time, though, Davis did get a Failure To Monitor charge, which is still pretty bad, and ignorance is hardly a valid defense for coaches. White closes out his piece by noting that he knows at least five BCS-level players from last season who believe that the impermissible benefit problem is much larger than is being reported. That's probably because the coaches, by and large, still don't know when it's going on.
The worst part is, this will go on forever. It's an inevitable result of trying to instill and enforce a code of strict amateurism in a capitalist society. You can't get people to stop wanting money, and the stricter the consequences are, the greater lengths the athletes will go to to conceal the activity. Hence Lonnie White, sitting in an empty lot late at night, trading season tickets for a bag of money. Basic capitalism turned into an act of shame. That's obviously not the NCAA's stated goal, but it's the clear end result.
Doesn't seem right, does it?