Mon Jul 19 11:25am EDT
You know those ultra-cynical types who, when news breaks of a politician or a cop or, say, a college football program in trouble, seem to relish the opportunity to point out that they're all on the take? Those people are loving the last week in college football, as headline after headline rolls in to confirm that yes, they really are on the take. And the NCAA is on the warpath for all of them.
Thursday, we learned the Association was investigating North Carolina for "Reggie Bush" stuff – agents, improper benefits, all-expenses-paid trips – among at least two potential draft picks, and possibly many more. By Sunday, South Carolina had confirmed that the same investigation has set its sights on the Gamecocks, as well. And Monday, courtesy ESPN's Pat Forde, it's Florida's turn to own up:
Florida and NCAA officials are investigating a potential rules violation that allegedly occurred this past December involving former Gators football standout Maurkice Pouncey, sources said.
Florida is internally investigating what sources described as an allegation that a representative of an agent paid Pouncey $100,000 between the Gators' loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game and their season-ending Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati. Florida apprised the NCAA of the allegation after it became aware of it.
"We were made aware of some information in early June that we reported to law enforcement and we then shared with the NCAA and the SEC," athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a statement released Monday morning to ESPN.com. "At this time we have no information that has indicated that there are any compliance issues for the University of Florida."
The law enforcement Foley references is investigating whether there was a breach of the state's agent registration laws. (If so, a conviction could lead to jail time, as Pouncey's agent, Joel Segal, knows well after pleading no contest to paying Florida State's Corey Sawyer $1,300 in 1995. Segal also represents former Gator Percy Harvin, as well as Randy Moss, Michael Vick and ... Reggie Bush.)
Based on reports to date, Florida's case differs from the situations at North Carolina and South Carolina in two significant ways: a) Pouncey, a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, doesn't return, and so can't be declared ineligible for the upcoming season; and b) He's accused of actually playing in a game while ineligible.
If it comes to a formal accusation of NCAA violations, the Tar Heels and Gamecocks may be able to get away with booting the offending player(s) and move on without so much as a vacated win, if the alleged violations don't stretch back to last season. (Recall that high-profile, agent-related suspensions of Alabama's Andre Smith and Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant were both restricted to the players and carried no additional consequences for the programs because neither competed while ineligible.) Florida has no way to foist the consequences onto Pouncey – though it did apparently acknowledge, investigate and report what it had in relatively timely fashion, greatly reducing the odds it will be defined as culpably negligent in the way USC was in the Bush case. Still, at a bare minimum, an ineligible lineman would mean the 51-24 rout in the Superdome – the greatest statistical game of Tim Tebow's Gator career, in his finale – would be wiped from the books. And that's only the minimum.
As of now, it's also pure conjecture until the investigation, requisite paperwork and due process channels are exhausted. In the meantime, the NCAA's anti-agent crusade shows no signs of slowing down: Literally anyone could be next in line for a bureaucratic scalping. After a solid decade of laissez-faire under late president Myles Brand, the Reggie Bush case has either prompted a wave of high-profile snitching or rekindled some of the old death penalty-era fire.
The notion of "amateurism" in big-time college sports has been a kind of running joke for years as more and more money is at stake for everyone involved. But even the most skeptical assumptions about the corruption of the outdated "amateur" ideal may be rendered quaint by the time this ride comes to a complete stop.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.