An NFL agent with 20 years in the biz names names on who took money and committed other improprieties. But some people we never saw coming: Mel Kiper, really?
Sports Illustrated has a blockbuster cover story out today, in which former agent Josh Luchs burns every bridge he ever built, but provides us with a look at recruiting and payouts to college players on a size and scale we just haven't seen before. There's tons here to digest and pick apart, but a few of the highlights:
•Raiders TE Greg Townsend turned to Luchs, then a ball boy, for a urine sample since he knew he wouldn't pass a "surprise" drug test.
•Pretty much everyone on UCLA in the mid-90s was taking money from agents.
•Jonathan Ogden didn't accept money, but he did take Luchs's tickets to see Janet Jackson in concert. "I went with a 6'9" guy who weighed more than 300 pounds and who screamed "Janet!" the whole night like a teenage girl."
•Chris Mims took $500 per month during his senior season at Tennessee. Tony Banks also got paid monthly.
•Ryan Leaf had big-time credit card debt, so he accepted monthly payments from Luchs. He would eventually leave Luchs for Leigh Steinberg, but after signing his pro contract, he paid Luchs back about what he had received.
•Santonio Holmes told Luchs it wasn't worth talking to him, because Holmes was already receiving regular payments from another agent.
•Dana Stubblefield, J.J. Stokes and Keyshawn Johnson all turned down money from Luchs.
•Gary Wichard never paid money to players, but it was no secret that he may have paid a UNC coach to steer his players to him.
•Finally, the Mel Kiper story:
In 2000, before a meeting with Stanford defensive lineman Willie Howard, Gary arranged for ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper to call. Gary and I were talking to Willie in Gary's office when Gary's phone rang, and he put it on speakerphone.
"Viper, how are you?" Gary said. That's what he called Mel, Viper or Vipe. "Viper, I'm sitting here with the best defensive lineman in college football. Do you know who that is?"
"You must be with Willie Howard," Mel said.
Gary used Mel like that all the time. In the agent business, people know Gary and Mel are close, and some people suspect that Mel ranks players more favorably if they are Gary's clients.
So there we go. Plenty of questions to be asked over the coming days and weeks, but it's not like it will make a difference. The statute of limitations is up on any NCAA violations described, and it's not like any of these revelations will come as a big surprise to anyone who knows how these things work. Still, it's sobering to see players and agents named, and to grasp just how commonplace this stuff is.
Luchs's credibility will be questioned, since he undoubtedly has a bone to pick after being suspended by the NFLPA for pocketing money meant for his employer, Gary Wichard. (Luchs has since left the agent business altogether.) So while nothing will change immediately from this story, the scope of agent payments in college football is gradually becoming too large to ignore. And it's becoming impossible to believe that the problem is anything but an institutional one.
Confessions of an agent [Sports Illustrated]