In a stunning piece published in Sports Illustrated in 2010, former sports agent Josh Luchs admitted to paying money and providing other benefits to college athletes, in clear violation of NCAA and NFL Players Association rules. Luchs, who represented more than 60 NFL athletes over the course of his career, named more than 30 former players who allegedly accepted money or other benefits while still enrolled at universities around the country.
Since then, Luchs has traveled the country, speaking about the dirty business side of college sports. It's a world where colleges make millions of dollars off of players, and where some agents routinely win contracts through illegal means. Luchs outlines many of these practices in his new book Illegal Procedure.
Luchs first paid a player from the University of Colorado in 1990. The player, linebacker Kanavis McGhee, had explained to Luchs that his mother had lost her job and was falling behind on her rent payment. To solve the problem, McGhee needed to come up with $2,500. He asked Luchs for help.
"At the end of the day, I decided that I'd go ahead and give him what he needed," Luchs tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "It would help me develop a relationship, and that's really what it was all about — and it bettered my chances of signing the guy."
After lending McGhee the money, Luchs ended up not signing him — but it didn't stop him from paying more college players — or from seeking advice from other agents in the business. One well-known agent, Harold "Doc" Daniels, explained to Luchs that there were certain rules when giving out loans to college players.
"He taught me that rather than paying a lump sum of money ... it would be more productive for us to give it to them incrementally — in smaller doses — so that they'd come back on a regular basis in a systematic fashion so we would have the opportunity to maintain a line of communication and better our chances of representing the player at the end of the road," he says. "That made all the sense of the world to me. We would determine a minimum amount ... and if we understood what their needs were or what their family life was about, then we could ... better prey upon those needs and fill those gaps — and we did. ... And it may only cost $200 a month for a player that could end up being a first-round draft choice and generate millions."
Luchs and the financial advisers he worked with also purchased automobiles and other luxuries for players. He bailed one athlete out of jail and brought more than one player to live with him, just to keep them close and keep competing sports agents at bay. But he says coaches remained in the dark.
"From my perspective, they didn't know," he says. "And I don't think they wanted to know, and I don't think anybody ever looked closely enough to want to find out. I think they still don't."
Luchs was eventually suspended for a rules infraction. He has since transitioned to a career in real estate and says he would have made different choices, if given the opportunity.
"Very few of us see the world the same way at 22 as they do at 42, which I am now," he says. "But as far as providing loans, I ... really question the morality and the ethics of the entire structure that leaves these players in a position where they have to [accept loans] if they want to not live in poverty. ... As far as ethically, at the end of the day, I was helping myself. I acknowledge that. It was a shortcut I took. And would I do it again? No, I wouldn't do that again. ... My ambition exists but no longer in a blind form."