John Steigerwald's Sports Column
Want to win in college football? Hire a good bag man
Maybe Pitt just needs a few good or a few more bag men.
Head 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 way from the glory days of the mid-1970s to early ’80s.
You would have to be 40 or older to remember the days when Pitt was often ranked in the top 5, almost always in the top 10 and had multiple players taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
Lots of legitimate reasons are 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 time ago that no program should expect to be a perennial top-10 program without paying serious money to recruits.
I wasn’t shocked when I read a story on the website, SB Nation, by Steven Godfrey called, “Meet the Bag Man, How to Buy College Football Players in the Words of a Man Who Delivers the Money.”
A newspaper might not print the story because the quotes are anonymous and it may 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 signing day hanging around with bag men and 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. There is no email, just personal contact. They use disposable cell phones. 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 said he’s never encountered a situation where a parent or guardian worried about the legality.
He said 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 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.
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 absolutely no proof any of them are involved in any of the undocumented, sleazy activity described by Godfrey, but based on Godfrey’s experience, no good bag man leaves a trail.
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• It’s amazing how bad most sports movies are. I haven’t seen it yet, but based on the trailers, I have a feeling Draft Day with Kevin Costner stinks.
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.