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Commentary: Maybe Pitt needs to cheat

by on April 13, 2014 2:00 AM

Maybe Pitt just needs a few good — or a few more — bag men.

Coach Paul Chryst is coming to the end of his third spring practice, and Pitt football is coming off a relatively good season with a bowl win, but the program is a long, long way from the glory days of the mid-’70s to early ’80s.

You’d have to be pretty old to remember the days when Pitt was often ranked in the top five and almost always in the top 10 and had multiple players taken in the first round of the NFL draft.

Lots of legitimate reasons have been given for Pitt’s failure to make it back into the top echelon of college football, but, could it be that it’s just not cheating enough?

Maybe not paying enough for players?

I had a veteran scout tell me a long, long time ago that no program should expect to be a perennial top 10 without paying serious money to recruits.

I wasn’t shocked when I read a story on SBNation.com by Steven Godfrey called “Meet the Bag Man, How to Buy College Football Players in the Words of a Man Who Delivers the Money.”

This newspaper might not print the story because all of the quotes are anonymous and it might fall short of the standard, so nobody would blame you for being skeptical. But I find it all amazingly believable.

Godfrey spent two months leading up to last February’s national letter of intent signing day hanging around with bag men, and he claims, among many other things, to have witnessed cash handed to an SEC football player.

Various bag men working for various major college programs, mostly in the South, are quoted anonymously with multiple examples of blatant, substantial payoffs.

It’s all about plausible deniability. No email. Just personal contact. Disposable cellphones. (The drug dealers call them burners.)

Godfrey writes, “A good bag man will never be famous. He will never be that guy hovering right next to the head coach after a big win. His name will never be known by the majority of students, fans and alumni of the university he loves. … There are no memorial scholarships named after the guy who gave a running back’s mother $3,000 a month for four years.”

The process is about as sleazy as your average drug deal. One bag man says he’s never encountered a situation where a parent or guardian worried about the legality.

He says that, at most schools, all the football, basketball and baseball coaches and their wives are getting some kind of vehicle as part of their contract, and that creates a nice fleet of cars for program-friendly dealerships to give to recruits when the leases expire.

Kids are even paid not to go on a recruiting visit to a rival school. According to Godfrey, the going rate is $2,500.

And, if you’re wondering how widespread this is, Godfrey writes, “(But) describing an October Saturday in the South as a culture accepting of this behavior would be a raging understatement.”

Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia are not Southern programs, and there’s no proof that any of them are involved in any of the undocumented, sleazy activity described by Godfrey. But then again, based on Godfrey’s experience, no good bag man leaves a trail.

• It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Sidney Crosby would have won the NHL scoring title by 30 points if Pascal Dupuis had played 60 or 70 games.

• The local media outlets who gave air time or ink to the idiot who ran onto the field at PNC Park on the Pirates’ opening day didn’t do the local teams or fans any favors.

• Henry Aaron has every reason to be bitter about the way he was treated 40 years ago when he was on his way to breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record, and he apparently still is.

• Remember when the ACC was better off not inviting UConn to join?

• Jack Nicklaus says he still thinks Tiger Woods is going to break his record and win at least 19 major championships. Jack’s just being nice.

• If you have a son who is a youth baseball pitcher, the lesson from all of the Tommy John surgeries being done on major league pitchers is watch his pitch count. If he’s between 11 and 14, he shouldn’t throw more than 76 pitches in a game, according to the American Sports Medicine Institute.

• New Redskins wide reciever DeSean Jackson said that he does hang out with gang members, “but not if they’re doing negative things.” DeSean just helps out with the car washes and bake sales, apparently.

• It’s amazing how bad most sports movies are. Haven’t seen it yet, but based on the trailers, I have a feeling “Draft Day,” with Kevin Costner, stinks.



John Steigerwald's blog can be found at www.justwatchthegame.com, and he is the author of "Just Watch The Game." His column appears each Saturday.
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