Schools all over the country are being punished, investigated and questioned about illegal contact between players and agents. Steelers fans are undoubtedly aware that AgentGate has reached the North Shore, with first-round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey being investigated for allegedly accepting $100,000 in between the Florida Gators' SEC Championship Game loss and the Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati. Pouncey is essentially untouchable by any NCAA punishments, but if he is found to have violated agent contact rules, the University of Florida would forfeit its win over Cincinnati.
Further, early reports are circulating that Greg Romeus, standout defensive lineman for the Panthers, was in attendance at the infamous South Beach party hosted by Frank Gore. While no official sanctions have come against Romeus or any of the other guests, the case against Romeus seems to be on the weak side. He is from Florida, not too far from where the party was hosted, and there is no evidence that his travel was paid, or that he had illegal contact with agents while at the party. If it turns out that Romeus was in contact with agents against NCAA rules, punishment will certainly be forthcoming (and be warranted). Until then, though, Pitt, Penn State and WVU have stayed clean throughout AgentGate.
So we asked: what has your school done to avoid these scandals, could it happen at your school, and if so, to what magnitude, and what would be the ramifications if it did?
West Virginia - Aaron Hawley
Like all college sports fans, I can only hope that West Virginia University is doing its due diligence in protecting the Mountaineer athletic programs from this sort of scandal. Unfortunately, you never know. Rich Rodriguez’s over-practicing at Michigan had the NCAA making a bee-line for Morgantown. Even if your school is clean, there are always skeletons to exhume and closets where they might hide. As a fan, I can only hope the squeaky-clean demeanor demonstrated by head football coach Bill Stewart applies to all reaches of the athletic department. Stewart has a much healthier respect for rules and regulations than his predecessor, but in many of these instances the head coach is the one with the most to lose, so any impropriety is kept out of their line of sight.
Could this happen in Morgantown? Absolutely; it could happen anywhere there’s a pro-level prospect. Agents and those who care little about NCAA regulations will travel to the end of the earth if they think it will benefit them. The upside is that Morgantown, despite growing rapidly over the last decade, retains a small-town feel. The members of the WVU football team and Men’s Basketball team are a visible part of the community here in Morgantown, so hiding impropriety would be a lot harder here than in a large city. A star player driving a $100,000 car down High Street will turn some heads, for sure. That said, we look after our own in West Virginia, so the natural inclination would be to circle the wagons and not let any information get out and be handled internally. A few years back the town was abuzz with a sordid rumor involving Rodriguez. What was rumored might never have happened, or it might have happened and been kept entirely under wraps.
The ramifications of a scandal in Morgantown would be massive. First, West Virginians don’t take well to cheating or anything else we deem ‘immoral’. Locally, there would be backlash against whoever put the University in that position, be it a player, coach, booster or member of the administration. Fans wouldn’t turn their backs on the gold and blue, but they would hang whomever they deemed responsible in effigy. Mountaineer fans never took to Chris Henry or Pac Man Jones despite their being two of the most talented players in school history. Because of their behavioral shortcomings, there was the impression that both players made West Virginia look bad, and no native West Virginian will tolerate that. From the program’s standpoint, any punishment, be it probation, vacated wins, or anything else, would be hard to recover from. Oftentimes the Mountaineers need to work twice as hard as other schools to be considered a "national program," and any setback would take them much longer to recover from. There’s the notion, be it true or false, that it’s hard to recruit top-flight talent to Morgantown and the scrutiny of the NCAA wouldn’t help matters at all. Any perceived wrongdoing would be ample fodder for opposing coaches on the recruiting trail, and the talent level of WVU recruits would drop precipitously.
I like to think this won’t happen here, but in this day and age, to say it can’t ever happen here would just be foolish.
Pitt - Anson Whaley
One of the best things a school can do to avoid these types of disasters is hire coaches with integrity. Without being in Pitt's inner circle, it's difficult to gauge the character of head men Dave Wannstedt and Jamie Dixon. That said, on the outside, both appear to have all their ducks in a row when it comes to this kind of thing.
When Joe Paterno took over nearly 50 years ago, he began what he called the "Grand Experiment," which fused athletics and academics. Players were required to give their all on the field and in the classroom. Stories abound of players earning a spot in the legendary Joe Paterno Doghouse when they skip class or otherwise cut corners in their academic lives.
Because of the Grand Experiment, the atmosphere is not one of flamboyance and arrogance, like that of Southern Cal during the Reggie Bush years. In Happy Valley, academics come first; if you don't agree, there is a very good chance you'll never play football for Penn State. The Nittany Lions football team has a long history of solid academic performance compared to its peers:
The outstanding graduation performance is the latest success in a long line of academic achievement for members of Coach Joe Paterno's program, who consistently are near the top nationally in graduation success.
That being said, these kids are between 18 and 22, so there will certainly be plenty of stories of them getting into trouble. There have been tales of apartment fights, student union fights, and McDonald's fights that included members of the football team. There have been accusations of rape, alcohol-related charges and rare occurrences of attempted stabbings among the football players.
What is not present among the Nittany Lions is the mindset that contact with agents against NCAA regulations is okay. As Aaron and Anson pointed out, anything could happen on any campus around the country. But at Penn State, there is a set of ideals that the players are expected to live by, and Paterno and the staff try very hard to maintain these standards. Penn State has been churning out top-notch defensive stars for some time, and even though some of them have not panned out in the NFL, none of their names have been attached to stories like AgentGate.
Because of the philosophy the coaching staff demands of their players, a scandal like this in State College would shock everyone. There is little doubt that any player involved in such a scandal would be immediately removed from the team. Paterno has established a pattern of less-than-zero tolerance for shenanigans on his team, so accusations and evidence of illicit agent contact would be definite grounds for removal. And the university, students and fans would all back Paterno up, no matter who the player was. If it turned out tomorrow that star running back Evan Royster accepted gifts from an agent, there is no way you would see Royster in a Nittany Lions uniform in 2010.
It's an unlikely scandal for Penn State, at least Joe Paterno's Penn State. But, as Anson mentioned above, anything is possible.