Student-athletes need alternative to agents' bad money
Tucson sports fans have long been deprived of professional teams they can call their own. There are of course Phoenix's Suns, Diamondbacks and Cardinals, but in most sports-related senses of the word, Phoenix is our innate rival.
So it is no surprise that Tucsonans, even those not directly connected to the University of Arizona, fall at the ankles of Wildcat sports stars - especially those who have helped bring the university, and the city, NCAA Championship titles.
The university itself was pegged last year as the number one "Jock School" by the Princeton Review - a term not necessarily endeared, but certainly appropriate. It is undeniable that sports - namely men's basketball, which was last year responsible for $45,363 in television revenue shares - are a driving force at the University of Arizona.
And when the university announced last week that former UA basketball star Jason Terry accepted more than $11,000 from two separate agents while playing for the Wildcats - a violation of NCAA rules - Tucson was shocked.
People reacted as most humans do when a man and his image fall from public hero to mere mortal. They were shocked, angry and even hurt, as if one person's actions reflected the team's cumulative attitude.
If Terry had taken bad money in April 1999, as the UA reported, who was to say that he hadn't done so a year or two before.
Some suspect he did, and that could have cost the Wildcats their 1997 Championship title.
The issue brought light to the possibility of college players bowing to agents or gaming, but it also revealed the devious characters in the college basketball game - the agent.
The UA men's basketball coaches adamantly swear they prepare student athletes for propositions from agents and the prospect of gaming. They bring the FBI and university police to talk with the team members about the consequences of accepting illegal gifts or benefits, and it seems like they pull out all other stops to prevent Wildcat players from falling into the agent trap.
"I've said for a long time that the biggest problem facing college basketball is agents," head coach Lute Olson said. "They have runners (assistants) all over the place, and there is no way to keep track of all of them. You can't believe all of the problems out there with them."
The agent trap is most alluring to young athletes coming from more economically disadvantaged families - possibly those attending college on a government grant, possibly those who don't qualify for government assistance but don't receive enough money from other avenues to get by in college.
The Terry situation proves that everything and everyone is fallible, especially college students in financial binds.
Universities and the NCAA have been working with legislators to pass regulations against agents and toughen existing rules.
But the state government has bigger fish to fry.
The only realistic solution is to offer student athletes in a financial bind another route to consider.
One alternative is a proposal by Olson, which would allow individual banks to estimate an athlete's potential earning power and in turn offer that athlete a loan for the estimated amount of money.
Again, it is fallible, but what isn't? At least Olson's plan gives struggling student athletes another way to control their financial situations.
The bottom line is that until student athletes have something to turn to that is better than agents' bad money, there will be your Jason Terrys and your NCAA violations and your possibilities of a forfeited national championship.
It happens. It's not the end of the world, but for some, it could be the end of a cultural phenomenon.