Despite how you may feel about Reggie Bush and the choices he’s made in his life, it doesn’t negate the fact that he knows a little something about the worth of a top-tier college athlete, and all the temptations that come along with it.
The USC legend had his 2005 Heisman Trophy vacated and doesn’t exist as far as the school’s record books are concerned, due to an NCAA’s investigation that found that Bush received a multitude of improper benefits before he turned pro.
“They’re about to start paying college athletes. This is something that has never been experienced before, and it’s going to destroy some people if their foundation is not in the right place,” said Bush in a recent interview with Playboy.
The quote, without proper context, is causing a bit of a stir. It can come off as Bush possibly being against player compensation. But that’s not the case at all. Because in actuality, he’s trying to warn us about what’s ahead.
Here’s the full quote from Bush, as the question was “Do you ever think about trying your hand at coaching?
“Nope, no coaching for me. Maybe I’d take a front-office position, but I’m not trying to go back and coach. I would like to help people, but I’d rather just pop in for guidance. Guidance is the one thing that young athletes coming through the college system miss on so much. I missed on it. They’re about to start paying college athletes. This is something that has never been experienced before, and it’s going to destroy some people if their foundation is not in the right place.
“The one thing I wish I had early in my career is proper financial knowledge. I hired good agents, and I hired a good team. But I allowed that good team to make decisions for me. I’m not saying I’m going bankrupt, but if I had the proper knowledge back then, some things would be different. People just assume, ‘Well, you got all this money, so you’re good.’ It’s actually the opposite. The more money you have, the more danger you’re in. Because now you’re a freaking open target for a lot of people. It’s a nasty world out there, and it’s about to get nastier. You’re going to really start to see the true colors of a lot of people, and a lot of businesses, too. You’re going to see people doing some crazy stuff to make money, because our market is crashing.”
Last month, the NCAA announced its support of the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) movement, as student-athletes can now make money from sponsorships and endorsement deals. They are allowed to sell autographs and memorabilia and can charge for personal appearances. The new rule could take effect as early as next year, as the proposal is expected to be submitted to the NCAA this fall.
That means that some of these kids are about to get paid, and college students with money tend to make poor choices.
In 2012, ESPN released Broke, a documentary that’s part of their “30 for 30” series, which focused on the money problems that pro athletes face, as a 2009 Sports Illustrated article detailed how 60 percent of NBA players and 78 percent of NFL players go broke within just a few years of retirement.
Today, it’s estimated that NFL players make an average of $1.9 million a year, with 15 percent of them filing for bankruptcy, according to a recent CNBC report.
“Athletes don’t begin their career with the end in mind,” Joe McLean, a wealth manager to pro athletes, told CNBC “Early on in someone’s career, they are just figuring out how to get on the field. And the money is coming, but they almost don’t have any time to figure that out. They have to live each contract as if it’s their last one. But a lot of athletes initially think there’s always going to be another contract.”
An ESPN report from 2017 estimated that the average career of players in the NFL is 3.3 years, with the NBA at 4.6, and MLB at 5.6. An athlete’s window to make money off their physical talents is small, and while that window is about to expand, so will the problems that come along with money.
If professionals can’t take care of their dough, then how can we expect kids, who will likely be living away from home for the first time, to properly handle their finances while living in a dorm packed with other students?
Over the past few years, we’ve watched as the argument for player compensation has evolved from a discussion to an oncoming proposal. But what we haven’t addressed are the things that Bush mentioned.
Whether or not college athletes should be able to make money isn’t the issue any longer. Leaving them alone to figure out what to do with it now is, and it will, as Bush said, “destroy” some of them.
The onus is now on the NCAA and schools to come up with ways to help college athletes navigate the new financial circumstances that are headed their way. Perhaps yearly mandatory money management courses should be in play for all student-athletes.
Because if a system isn’t put in place before the money comes flowing in, then you can bet that college athletes will soon wind up in the same place that many pro athletes are.