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The Gentleman's Agreement

The big name player in the midwest taking money and gifts from various boosters.

The elite national football recruit lured to the northwest after chasing booster and program dollars.

The national recruit out of the southwest and his father who sought and received booster money from various programs and were even involved in criminal activity on a recruiting visit.

These are but three easy to recall examples of scandalous, rule-breaking behavior happening within college football in recent years.  There are many more stories out there like these: well-known within coaching and recruiting circles but rarely if ever reported to the press or the NCAA.

Why is that?

Here's a hint: every program is guilty of something, and most are unabashed repeat offenders.

From time to time, flare-ups occur between programs, mostly about recruiting but often simple jealousy is to blame.  However, the war of words is often private.  Vague threats may be made before the sides go back to their corners to simmer down and move on.  At least, that's usually the case.

This detente of sorts between the majority of D-I college football programs is what is commonly called a Gentleman's Agreement.

An unwritten agreement guaranteed only by the pledged word or secret understanding of the participants

I'm sure most coaches wouldn't admit to something like this being in place, but it's a logical explanation for the lack of tattling through the papers and NCAA given the depth of widely-known violations that exist.

What's happened is that a mutual protection society of sorts has formed, and most squabbles are handled internally between football programs and their coaches.

The logic behind this is twofold:

1)Nobody wants to deal with the NCAA-As I mentioned earlier, the NCAA lacks a predictable, systematic response mechanism to the rules violations it finds.  With so much left to chance, the NCAA has given itself a broad and powerful range of sanction powers.

Very often the sanctions are nonexistent or "slaps on the wrist", but there is always the threat of scholarship losses, postseason bans, and even stronger punishments such as the mythical "death penalty" imposed upon the SMU football program so many years ago.  Yes, a program may know its neighbor or rival is cheating, but it's not like they're perfectly clean either.  Being turned in by a foe thus becomes a form of Russian Roulette.  This leads to No. 2...

2)Bad karma/breaking the agreement-I think the appropriate quote here is "there but for the grace of God, go I".  It's one thing to be mad at another school for whatever violation is discovered, but it's another to rat them out.

Every program has its skeletons in the closet---thus, every attempt made at outing others is certain to be considered of poor taste and discretion.  Who is to say that the program doing the ratting isn't the next to get turned into the NCAA?  Investigations reduce the flow of booster money, they affect recruiting, invite bad press and truth is often lost in the hysteria.  Few, if any programs can stomach the uncertainty and possible sanctions.  Therefore it's in everyone's interest to play along and uphold the agreement.

Before we go further, I want to clarify that I'm not being naive here.  I have several recruiting contacts who tell me interesting and devious tales about some of the rule breaking going on.  In general we're in a newer, more clean era of football as the NCAA has strengthened itself over the years.  Things certainly aren't as wild and wooly as they used to be, and everyone's the better for it.

However, violations persist and that's likely never to change.

Everything's kosher so long as everyone's on board 

Boston Massacre Syndrome

As I said earlier, most combatants tend to simmer down and let bygones be bygones.  But not all of them, and that's where we run into a problem.

Imagine being in a room filled with a hundred people, all with guns pointed at one another's heads.  That's kind of what's happening here.  Things are tense, but chaos and bloodshed (in this case, all kinds of accusations and NCAA investigations and punishments) has been avoided because for the most part everyone's playing by the rules---the aforementioned gentlemen's agreement.

When someone pulls their trigger, however, problems surface.  The agreement loses its strength and people start getting hurt amidst all the shooting.

Three such programs have in fact pulled the trigger in recent memory.  For that, they earn CFR's stamp of disapproval as certified tattle-tales.


See link

On to college football, where the Clemson coaching staff is perturbed about an alleged last-minute recruiting heist Florida tried to pull with CJ Spiller, who signed with the Tigers anyway.

As the story goes, Florida sent one of its top players on a lengthy drive to see Spiller and keep him busy on the eve of signing day. If the story is true, Florida could be in for some trouble with the NCAA

Clemson's staff sat on that potential violation for a while---and simmered---and still couldn't get over what looks like a ticky-tack violation.  Rear end sufficiently red, someone called the local paper to complain.

Clemson blogger TigerPundit has a good read on this story, and takes the Clemson coaches to task for their petty carping to the local rag.

One more thing, and I think this is kind of important: Clemson's recruiting record under Bowden has been on the up-and-up, and he is to be commended for that. In fact, the Tigers haven't been busted for a major recruiting violation since 1992.

Well, it sure as hell better stay that way. He's just invited every school in the South that Clemson competes with for recruits to do to the Tigers what he did to Florida



This one's not as recent, but certainly the most entertaining of the bunch.  Upset at losing recruits to Alabama from his little honeypot in Memphis, Vols coach Phil Fullmer secretly rallied boosters and NCAA officials to put the squeeze on Alabama.  They dug up evidence about the out and out bribery involved in the recruitment of defensive line recruit Albert Means, and caught Alabama booster Logan Young in the act.

As a result, Alabama was sanctioned, lost Means, and Young went to jail.


Days before USC and Texas played in the Rose Bowl, Texas newspapers questioned USC about possible recruiting violations at a restaurant used for recruiting dinners, the Papadakis Taverna.

The not-so-strange strange thing is that everyone in the Pac-10 knew about USC's recruiting dinners, and the specifics of what went down there, but nobody complained in those first five years under Trojan coach Pete Carroll.  Yet lo and behold days before the Rose Bowl, a complaint is made.  The Texas papers wouldn't have known about something so specific without a tipoff from inside the UT program.

More recently, Yahoo! Sports writer Charles Robinson admitted to ESPN that the tips from his anonymous sources about the Reggie Bush housing story he broke were told to him at Texas' Pro Day and also Vince Young's individual workout.  Again, more UT insiders playing games.

What's with UT's and the whole goody two-shoes act?

I can't stress enough, with the rampant level of violations out there, both intentional and accidental, everyone is guilty of something and everyone else certainly knows about it.  Only by upholding the gentleman's agreement can the bloodshed of media firestorms and NCAA sanctions be avoided---think USC's happy about the beating it took two weeks ago?  They're managing, but I'm not sure the next team who gets that treatment is going down without a heck of a lot of collateral damage to everyone nearby.  Nobody wants that.

Bottom line: it's all all or nothing deal, where either the agreement stands or one too many teams gets self-righteous and collapse the whole system.


Getting back to the UT's and Clemson for a moment: assuming that everyone knows of the agreement, I wonder, "was it worth it"?

It's too soon to tell for Clemson, although they're already getting bad press.  Texas won the national championship, but I'm sure there are some folks at Texas A&M and Oklahoma frothing at the opportunity to drop all kinds of dirt on them if the agreement eventually collapses.  Think anyone is curious how Vince Young was able to get through school?  For Tennessee, they had a nice recruiting class recently, but the football team is in shambles after a 5-6 season.  I'm a sometimes believer in karma, and Tennessee exhibited poor form and bad karma in dragging Alabama through the mud like that.  I wonder if similar fates await Clemson and Texas.

***Update: Like I sad, bad Karma.  Texas running back Ramonce Taylor, already excused from the team to concentrate on academics, was arrested Sunday morning with more than five pounds of marijuana in the back of his car.***

I'm reminded of a quote from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, when Jack Nicholson's character is meeting with a psychiatrist.  He's been put in a mental hospital but doesn't quite fit the profile as someone who is mentally ill.  The drama flows from his constant bumping  of heads with the woman in charge, Nurse Ratched.  Right away Nicholson's character picks up that she's dishonest, but is in a power position and gets away with really petty power trips.  During the evaluation meeting, Nicholson tells the psychologist this great line:

She likes a rigged game, you know what I mean?

That's how I feel about the programs listed above.  They're playing a rigged game when they don't uphold the agreement like everyone else.  It's not exactly the most fair thing to do when a lot of other programs have held their fire.  They become villains, not unlike Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched.

Hint: she's not the movie's good guy

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Reader Comments (14)

You say,"The not-so-strange strange thing is that everyone in the Pac-10 knew about USC's recruiting dinners, and the specifics of what went down there, but nobody complained in those first five years under Trojan coach Pete Carroll."

Then you say, "Yet lo and behold days before the Rose Bowl, a complaint is made. The Texas papers wouldn't have known about something so specific without a tipoff from inside the UT program."

So everyone in the west region knows about Papadakis' restaurant thing, but there's no way in the world that media from Texas could find out?

I get your point that it's something small and ridiculous to bitch to the NCAA about, but it's funny that you are assuming that someone with in the Texas Longhorn camp cried wolf to some media heads from Texas to make a stink.

As you say, if everyone in the Pac-10 knew about, then obviously it's not some esoteric knowledge that can't be passed all the way to Texas whatwith the invention of the Internet. You act surprised that a media outlet would make a stink about possible NCAA violations by a program like USC days before the Rose Bowl.

I also don't know if Taylor getting into shit is really bad karma for Texas allegedly ratting out USC. Taylor was 50/50 at best to return to the team, if he was on his best behavior this spring. Whether or not he's proven guilty or innocent, I think he's a goner from the Texas program.

If karma does exist, it would come in the form of Texas' so-called choirboys getting in trouble. Guys like Colt McCoy or Robison, not a well-known thug like Taylor. We'll see this year if Texas has it's karma coming to bite them in the ass.
May 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Kim
It's not something the texas newspapers would care about unless tipped off to make a stink about it. That's how the media works.

We'd see a lot more ticky-tack stories like that if it were common practice, especially before big intersectional and BCS-type matchups.

But that hasn't been the case. They went out of its way to do that, as Texas insiders/fans/whoever played their hand.
May 14, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
A story like the dinner would be something an Austin newspaper would be interested in. There are over four weeks between the end of the football season and the BCS national championship game. Don't you think the hometown newspaper will be doing all sorts of articles about the match-up? That would include alot of time spent on the opposing team. If "everyone knew about the dinners", then it sounds like it was pretty common knowledge that any half way decent reporter could come up with. And talking about Vince Young...you don't think that there weren't plenty of reporters looking into his grades after the Wonderlic story broke? If there was something there, I'm sure it would have come out. And speaking of academics, doesn't the USC tail-back position look suspicious...?

This whole observation works if everyone is cheating at the same level. As noted above, if Clemson really is clean and having been running a clean ship for years, then what do they have to lose by trying to level the playing field? Why shouldn't an organization get upset at being the focus of malacious intent when they have been attempting to stay within the rules? Granted, the Clemson example is but a small one, but the point holds for larger examples of "wink-wink" cheating. If an unfair competive advantage is realized, then the clean (or "less dirty") programs are at a loss. Crying foul and calling other programs tattlers like a little third grader for exposing major violations is dishonest. Calling Tennessee tattlers for exposing the pay-out of recruits? That's small stuff covered under the "gentleman's agreement"? Come on...I recognize that this site is linked very closely with www.heismanpundit.com and has been very pro-USC in the past, which makes this posting appear to be a justification for what has been showing up about USC these last couple of weeks, essentially is a "ignore it because everyone is doing it" plea. Basically, it sounds like you're condoning cheating as long as everyone keeps their mouths shut and cheats at the same level...therefore, Clemson and others should just join the rest of the club and start providing some nice cars to recruits.
May 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfc
You seem to be forgetting that prior to the Texas papers getting interest in the restaurant story, there was a blurb in the SI truth and rumors section sourced to a West Coast paper describing the recruitment at the restaurant that featured supportive quotes from Pete Carroll. I'm no newsman, but it's not a stretch to say that sportswriters at local papers may read the SI website.
May 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBob LaBlog
On the "Texas" connection to the restaurant story ... that piece did NOT appear in the hometown newspaper of the Longhorns. It was printed 200 miles north in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ... a paper that loves the TCU Horn Frogs and pays little to no attention to the folks who bleed orange. Get your facts straight.
May 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLezlee
By no means am I conditioning people to cheating.

But I think there's a certain gross naivete about the crap that goes on, and then fans throw fits as if it's this grand scheme by a handful of schools to cheat their way into oblivion.

The truth is that everyone cheats.

There's a LOT out there on every school, it's not like Clemson has just a few tiny things here or there, for example.

But so long as an agreement is in place when a school raises a stink I think back to the agreement. I thought it was most definitely something to add to the discussion here.

In the short-term, I get to have some fun and rightly add at least three schools (off the top of my head) to a tattlers list. They're not excused.
May 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
What?!? Not conditioning people to cheat? That's exactly what you're saying here. Who do you have it out for?

I am not so naive to think that a little bit of cheating is going on everywhere, ranging from what Clemson reported (pretty weak) to much worse violations. But to sit here and call out schools that might have had some connection to outing of violations? Come on...a line has to be drawn somewhere. Your example of actually paying a recruit is priceless. What you're saying here is that everyone should have turned a blind eye to ACTUALLY PAYING A RECRUIT because every school might have an extra dinner for a recuit in their past and they wouldn't want that coming out. Sometimes, I think bloggers say something completely outrageous, even if they don't actually believe it, just to get a reaction and see what happens. Please tell me this is one of those times.
May 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfc
I know that at least a handful of big time and small time schools know what happened with the example I posted about the recruit out of the southwest, yet none of them have peeped.

What does that tell you?

There's a pattern that teams follow of knowing but turning the other way, even at times when they are hurt by another team's violation.

I made quite a few phone calls before and during the writing of this, seeing how people in certain positions reacted and making sure I wasn't saying something off the wall.

Most had no misgivings whatsoever.

"What you're saying here is that everyone should have turned a blind eye to ACTUALLY PAYING A RECRUIT because every school might have an extra dinner for a recuit in their past and they wouldn't want that coming out"

No, that's what you're saying.
May 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
It tells me that there certainly are some schools out there that don't want the heat turned on them or want the knowledge of someone else's violation to keep their own out of the lime-light, as you have stated. But I think that the Clemson example is the one that fits the gentleman's agreement...we're going to wink at the little things because everyone is doing the little things. But at some point, there is a line drawn on what you would allow to go on before a true competive advantage is reached and one school (or their boosters) is willing to dirty themselves beyond what someone is willing to do. I'm all for saying that Clemson was being a bit nit-picky about their complaints, but citing Tennessee for the Alabama incident is too far. As I stated, a line has to be drawn somewhere and paying for players (you're right…my memory was of the recruit getting the money, not of the recruit's coach getting the money) has got to cross that line. When are recruiting violations bad enough?
May 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfc
thats true
July 25, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercollin
Texas does have a history of this sort of thing. In the mid-seventies Leon Black, the Horns basketball coach, turned in A&M for giving improper benefits to two basketball players.
June 22, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdean
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