The summer between my junior and senior years at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill was when I met Ivery Black. Ivery was an agent, and I didn't know him from Adam. I was living over in the south campus with a couple of other guys -- we had been moved there from the north campus because the school wanted to spare us, or themselves, from trouble. The dorm we were in was deserted save for us. We had been quarantined.
One day this dude shows up. I mean, it was like suddenly he was standing there one afternoon when I woke up from a nap.
"Lawrence Taylor?" he says.
The guy introduced himself and got into his rap. I listened.
"The NCAA doesn't like this sort of thing," he said, "but there's no law preventing me from talking to you before you finish up here."
That didn't seem terribly dangerous.
Ivery explained that while he was an agent, he couldn't give me money at that point -- he didn't do that with his athletes. His policy was to lend an athlete what he needed until he got drafted, when the money would be repaid.
What he wanted, he said, was to make sure that an athlete really did think of his future in the right way. Living in a dorm wasn't the best idea because there was too much potential trouble around.
He had it all worked out. If I agreed to take him on as my agent, there would be an intial payment of $500. I would live in the dorm until December, getting another $200 a month so I wouldn't have to work. In December, I'd move off campus and my monthly payments would go up to around $350 to cover the added cost of the apartment.
He wanted to know how I thought of myself in relation to the draft. I honestly didn't know, although I was hoping to have a good year and go on to the pros. I'd have been happy just to be drafted. Ivery told me that I probably didn't know how good I really was or how high in the draft I would probably go. Those weren't questions I could answer. I had something else on my mind.
"Where's the money?"
That's how our relationship began. Ivery since then has not only been an agent, adviser and business associate, he's also been a real friend. But at that point, all I knew was the man was standing there with money, and I surely wasn't going to turn down a loan that made my day-to-day life a little easier. We were both probably taking chances with the NCAA, but all of that, frankly, didn't bother me in the least. From day one, I knew why I was in school. Whether I made it or not, I was there to get on with a career in football. The University of North Carolina, like any of the big-time, big-money schools in cahoots with the NCAA, was into making money through football in ways players never dreamed about.
I have to be straight here. College football is to the pros what minor league baseball is to the majors. The NFL gets a free ride there, of course, because the schools do the work the league should be paying for. The schools and the NCAA get a free ride, too, because the millions they make they don't have to share with the players. The NCAA is into "amateurism." The schools are into academics. Both of them are full of it because what they really are into is money. And it's the players who make the money for them. . . .
The NCAA and the colleges, because they have this pious front about academic standards, wind up dogging and corrupting players left and right. They wink and nod in some cases, they come down hard in others. They'll get you for paying athletes in one publicized case but do nothing to chop down the money tree that keeps everyone but the players well-fed. They'll insist on academic "standards" -- but enforce them only when they need a few headlines or can't help themselves because somebody's exposed his school, in public.
I'm in favor of a player getting a good, general education, not necessarily a specialized, college-level education, but one that gets them through some basics in life. But players are taken into some colleges who don't even have a chance of getting that because they just aren't prepared, while other schools make it so hard to get in and stay in that hundreds, thousands of the nation's best athletes just don't get the chance to show what they can do. . . .
What's the answer? I'm a football player, not an educator, but I'll tell you this: you don't need four years of French and two years of nuclear physics to sack a quarterback. If you're Phi Beta Kappa smart, let's face it: the chances are you're not going to go out for football, anyway. There's an unofficial double standard for football players where they have to come off like full-time scholars while, in reality, they are full-time athletes working to make millions of dollars for their schools and the NCAA. Why doesn't the NCAA check out some science or psychology majors, see what they're messing around with in their laboratories when no one is looking? There should be a double standard for athletes and regular students, but it should be official and different from the one they have now. It should allow students who are there to play ball to do it without penalty or obstruction. It would even be better for the NCAA. They could make their millions without coming off like a bunch of hand-wringing hypocrites while at the same time allowing themselves to be fairer to athletes. They could honorably face up to the fact that football players in college already are professionals in terms of what they put out, but amateurs in the sense that four-year "scholarships," worth about $40,000, or $10,000 per season, comes as close as you can get to playing for nothing. The Coaches' Role
Coaches, like everyone else in the system, are caught up in the mess. Unlike the players, they make plenty of money if they work for schools with big football programs. They have to win if they want to hold on to their paychecks, so they do all sorts of things to stay within the rules while at the same time making sure they don't let good players get hung before their eligibility runs out. When I was in school at North Carolina, there were two different head coaches. On was a guy (Bill Dooley) who said damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. He did everything he could for his players, helping them get by with all the little favors and some of the big ones, like steering them to courses that would give them the best chance of maintaining academic standing. The other coach (Dick Crum) was the opposite. He believed in the system.
The system, for example, said that a football scholarship lasts as long as a player's eligibility. Eligibility obviously ends with the player's last game for his school. After that -- so long, it's been good to know you, graduate if you can. Now, Crum had a literal interpretation for this unwritten rule. After we played our last 1980 game, the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, he got upset because 10 seniors were late for the team bus from the hotel to the airport. He had the bus leave without them and barred them from the plane when they got there on their own, even though takeoff had been delayed for an hour. Was the man bad? Nah, he just knew the system.
So did I. I didn't need any freshman orientation book to tell me that any uy in the football program can't deal with an academic program the way regular students can. The rules say a football player is expected to take so many hours, hold such-and-such a grade average, be responsible for all the things other students are responsible for, and then put in 60 hours a week on a football field, do contact drills, study game books, run 40s and 100s, and get up in the morning for a "sunrise" run if he blows a study hall. When you add up all the hours you put into the sport, all the bull you have to take from coaches and teachers and administrators and officials from the NCAA, it's obviously not worth it. But that's the only way you can make it to the pros.
My answer to all that was simple: If you can't change the system -- and who could? -- you better learn how to beat it. I did. There were a number of courses that were ready-made for football players. You know, large lecture classes, 1,200 people or more, with two tests, a midterm and a final, both multiple choice. In those courses, you're gonna get what the guy sitting next to you gets. The only thing you have to do is remember not to copy the same name on your paper. But there are only so many of these courses.
I did take some courses I cared about and learned things from, but that didn't get me through school. I learned every little bit I could about how things worked, and I took advantage of them. The rules, for example, said I had to take a full schedule of so many hours. I took half-loads and made sure I had a good supply of add and drop cards, properly dated, for the end of the semester. Then I'd go around the school during exam week looking for those courses where 100 percent of the grade was based on that final exam. I'd sit next to somebody I knew, copy his paper, and hand in mine while slipping an add card into the pile of papers before I left the room. Simple. Any fool could grab a "C" that way.
I bailed some friends out, too. One friend was going to be thrown out of school because he had flunked three of his five courses. I dragged him up to the dean's office and argued for him that there had been some terrible mistake: the courses he had flunked, he had actually dropped and there were properly dated drop cards to prove it. And what was more, there were three other courses -- courses he had passed -- that apparently had been overlooked. There were add cards to prove that as well! Fifteen minutes later, my friend was back in school, his average having risen.
The system is a fraud. It doesn't start in college either. It starts way back when kids aren't even given a decent way to develop those kinds of study habits and skills needed to cope with a college program and the life that comes afterward . . . .
Most athletes who go to college on athletic scholarships are there because that is the only way they can beat a life of poverty and drudgery. Very few of them will ever get to the pros. But that doesn't mean that a top athlete, one who does have a chance to make it, should be penalized by the academic system. It doesn't mean that a lesser athlete should be punished, either. Athletes are used by the schools for their own money-making purposes and should be paid, not punished, for the rewards they bring their schools. And then if athletes want to turn around and go to school and get all that academics has to offer, good for them. Next: Life with the Giants.^Z