If you weren't swallowed up by football (and/or mononucleosis) this weekend, you probably already heard the news jovial NBA commentator Charles Barkley managed to generate over the weekend. If you haven't heard, Barkley admitted on Dan Patrick's radio show that he took money from agents when he was a college basketball player at Auburn. His comments:
"I got money from agents when I was in college. Most of the players I know borrow money from agents," Barkley told Dan Patrick on his radio show. He said he borrowed from two or three agents and got "Like chump change. Just walk around money." Adding "I paid them back when I went to the NBA."
"Let me tell you something, these agents are well known, and they've been giving kids money for 30 years, and I have no problem with it. Borrowing money from an agent ain't the same as a college paying you."
The question now is what to make of Barkley's oh-so-courageous admission. No, the NCAA should not start looking into old Auburn box scores. No, the Auburn Tigers should not have to vacate the three mediocre seasons Barkley spent at the school from 1981 to 1984. (In that time, Barkley's teams only qualified for one NCAA tournament; it's not as if we're talking championships here, anyway.) I think we can all agree that pretty much no one should want to punish Auburn for the walk-around money Charles Barkley says he took almost 30 years ago.
The issue here is, naturally, more philosophical. Barkley's essential stance -- that "borrowing money from an agent ain't the same as a college paying you" -- is about as wrong as one can be on this issue. Yes, it is. In fact, it's worse. If a college pays you, at least you're taking part in a one-to-one transaction: You're getting paid for the financial value you generate for your school, same as any other business. That seems at least somewhat fair. If an agent is paying you, there's no such agreement. The lines become blurred. All manner of nefarious situations become possible. The very core of what the NCAA is doing becomes null and void. Dogs and cats lay down together. Mass hysteria.
There are arguments to be made for paying college athletes, and I'm one of those crazy dudes who think we ought to hear a few of them. But if a college kid is going to be rewarded for his ability on the field in financial terms, a borrow-lease situation with an agent is the absolute last way that should happen. I think we can all agree on that.