Imagine being a highly-touted college football player and receiving offers of all-expenses paid trips to South Beach and keys to a Bentley? You know it is illegal to accept the offers, but let’s think about what happens to you if you accept an offer like this from a sports agent or other booster. One scenario is that nobody finds out. You dominate in your college career while living like a king, and then you go on to have a professional career and become a 22-year old millionaire. This seems to be the perfect life, but someone will probably find out, right? Well, even if they do, you will get kicked off the team and have your character questioned by NFL general managers. Then, after sitting out for a year and just having to stay in shape for the NFL draft, these same GMs offer you your first payday worth more money than you could have ever dreamed about receiving. Deciding whether or not to accept these gifts then seems to be the best ever “win-win” situation for the athlete—take the gifts! If you think I am just making this up and stretching the truth of what really happens in these situations, pull out your laptop and google “UNC football agent scandal.”
This is a case of three players receiving significant amounts of gifts from sports agents while still students at North Carolina in 2010. Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Greg Little gave every Chapel Hill resident reasons to believe in the UNC football team, until they took the gifts, and consequently took away this same hope. The three players were found to have accepted items including, but not limited to, rent payments, travel expenses, thousands of dollars in accessories, Bentleys, and all expenses paid trips to South Beach. All three players were dismissed from the team, and the University of North Carolina took a huge hit to their reputation. The school also suffered direct and measurable penalties with fines, vacated wins, and loss of future scholarships. However, all three players are currently on NFL rosters—Austin signed for totals of 4 years and $3,675,000, Quinn for 4 years and $9,436,053, and Little for 4 yeares and $3,327,500. Not to mention, the hundreds of thousands in combined gifts they received while in college. Clearly, there is some sort of problem with the system if a player can take these gifts and be “punished” with angry college alumni and the loss of a year of college eligibility before becoming multi-millionaires.
There are many characters at play in this ethical conversation when you consider the behavior of the players, the agents, the athletic program, and the university administrators. There are many ways this relates to ethics from class when you consider the way these behaviors and interests may conflict. The athlete being offered gifts clearly has an interest in getting to the NFL and having a multi-million dollar professional career, but accepting the gifts causes damage to others without having much effect on the prospects of their NFL careers. The agents are in a bloodbath competition with other agents to sign the next big superstar. With some star athletes earning lifetime salaries of over $300 million dollars, an agents 3% take of that is $9 million. Therefore, agents could risk a few tens of thousands of dollars in gifts to sway a player to sign with him and earn him 500 million times his investment throughout the player’s career. Then we have the athletic program—all they want to do is win and generate revenue for their program and their school, and putting highly talented players on the field on gameday is the best way to do this. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were tempted to look the other way if a star player was receiving suspicious treatment from outside members of the program. Lastly, the University administrators have a similar incentive to look the other way when you consider how much money and recognition sports programs bring to their school. Essentially, with the penalties and system the way they currently are, this is the perfect storm for serious ethical scandal.