Survey Shows Large Number of Players Were Paid in College
Nearly a third of current and former NFL players responding to a survey said they had accepted illegal payments while in college, and 53% said they saw nothing wrong with breaking NCAA rules to get extra cash.
The study, announced Thursday by Allen L. Sack, a sociology professor at the University of New Haven, also found cheating to be most pervasive in major conferences, particularly the Southeastern Conference, where 67% of the league’s former players said they had accepted under-the-table payments to augment scholarships.
The study was based on responses from 1,182 active and retired NFL players--about a third of the 3,500 contacted.
Thirty-nine percent of former Pacific 10 Conference players surveyed admitted to being recipients of illegal payments, and 59% said they knew of others who broke the rules.
Said Sack of his survey: “For me, the results said that (illegal payments are) far more (prevalent) than what they say at the NCAA--that it’s not just a renegade institution or the deviant player. There’s a substantial underground economy that’s likely to be unstopped.”
“I think the problem with the system is that it’s humiliating for athletes and degrading for higher education,” he said from New Haven.
David Berst, the NCAA’s assistant executive director for enforcement, said he had not seen the study but expected that someone at the NCAA would review the findings.
“I don’t know how to react for sure,” he said.
Tom Hansen, Pac-10 commissioner, said he hadn’t seen the survey but planned to review it.
“I don’t know enough about the survey to know how valid it may be,” Hansen said. “I would think that if it is relatively valid, my guess would be that some of it went on a number of years ago.
“I would like to think that at this time, we have a pretty effective compliance and enforcement program within the conference. And that the removal of alums from the recruiting process, and the general tightening of restrictions on recruiting, and the understanding that those coaches who violate the rules are going to lose their jobs have taken it well below these levels at this time.”
Sack said the respondents indicated that the “vast majority” of illegal payments were made by alumni, although coaches also reportedly made improper payments.
Payments were made by sliding cash under dormitory doors, or in congratulatory handshakes after games, Sack said. One player said he typically found cash in his helmet every Monday before practice.
An important source of cash for illegal payments was the sale of complimentary tickets each player receives, the survey showed. Sack said one player admitted getting as much as $1,000 per ticket. NCAA rules prohibit players from selling game tickets.
Most players who admitted accepting illegal payments said they had received a total of about $1,000 over four years. In addition to cash, they accepted free meals and clothing, Sack said. A new suit was a popular payoff among older players, the study found.
One player, however, said he received $80,000 in illegal payments over his college career. Another said he was offered part interest in an oil well but refused, Sack said.
Under NCAA rules, a player can only be awarded enough scholarship money to cover room, board and school fees. A college player who accepts payment to play can be forced to forfeit his scholarship, and his school could face disciplinary action by the NCAA.
Seventy-eight percent of those responding said they thought the financial aid provided student-athletes under existing NCAA rules was inadequate.
Sack said the NFL Players Assn. provided him with the names and addresses of 3,500 former and current NFL players, each of whom was mailed a questionnaire. The respondents ranged in age from 22 to 83.
He said the players’ association agreed to participate because it wanted to learn how widespread the use of agents was among college athletes. Sack said that 17% of those surveyed said they had been approached by agents while undergraduates--another NCAA violation.
The survey found that 83% of former SEC players who responded knew of athletes who took illegal payments, and 67% of the former SEC players admitted receiving payments, Sack said.
But among SEC players older than 40, 53% said they knew of athletes who accepted illegal payments, while only 38% admitted to taking any money, Sack said.
Mark Womack, SEC associate commissioner, said he had glanced at the study and doesn’t believe it provides an accurate reflection of illegal payments in his conference.