Since reading Jim Bouton’s, Ball Four there have not been many sports “tell-alls” that have excited me. Most of these books feel like a last-ditch attempt to scream, “Look at me!” to jump back into the spotlight for another five minutes. Most books in this so-called genre are told with ulterior motives and most lack any sort of story-telling flow or valuable revelations. So I was at first skeptical of Josh Luchs’ new book, Illegal Procedure: A Sports Agent Comes Clean On The Dirty Business of College Football, which hit bookshelves today. But ever since the earth-shaking Sports Illustrated cover story in which Luchs first revealed just how extensively NCAA rules are flaunted in college football, Luchs has been nothing but consistent in his message, and steadfast in his desire to shine a spotlight on all of the gritty underpinnings of the sports agent industry.
Like bed bugs on a thousand-dollar mattress, Luchs exposes the skin-crawling truth under the glamorous surface of being a sports agent in a straight forward, yet entertaining manner in Illegal Procedure.
At times it is hard to believe that this naïve Jewish kid growing up in Beverly Hills, a real schmegegge at times, could do things like give an NFL star clean urine for a drug test or tap into his Bar Mitzvah money to bribe a college athlete. Yet while you want to hate the messenger, a man who admittedly flaunted almost every rule in the book, Luchs’ honest and self-deprecating narration makes the reader empathize with an agent just trying to succeed in a broken system. Luchs masterfully weaves his personal life into this nonstop shocker of admissions and revelations about just how crooked the business of college football really is. He does so by dishing out the truth about hypocritical college coaches like Nick Saban, who grants his own agent unlimited access to the locker room while publicly referring to agents as “pimps,” or devout Christian Jim Tressel, who rigged summer camp raffles to make sure his top recruits won prizes. Nobody is safe. NCAA Compliance Officers, NFLPA executives and even the hallowed lawyer are all exposed.
The best part about this book, though, is that it isn’t just a tell-all. Luchs proposes a slew of well-designed proposals to fix the current, shattered state of big-time college athletics. There is a lot to learn from this book and it should be required reading for not only everyone in the sports industry, but everyone who cares about the well-being of college athletes, the game of football and the institutions that make up the NCAA.
Fortunately for us here at The Legal Blitz, Luchs took time out of his media whirlwind to discuss his new book and future efforts to effect positive change in college athletics.
What were some of the biggest challenges in writing this book?
One of the great challenges for me was to share my experiences and make them available to people without succumbing to the desire to make excuses for my behavior. That is a really difficult thing to do. We all have a tendency to justify our actions. I really wanted it to be not necessarily matter of fact, but just left to people’s own internal right vs. wrong monitor.
We wanted to be entertaining, which I think at the end of the day, hopefully we achieved that. I look at it like the spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down. It’s not like a Law Review article. Telling the story this way gives us a chance to take the message more mainstream. That’s what is needed for change to take place. The conversation can’t be limited to law students or sports attorneys or even avid sports fans – it needs to have a broader audience.
Most sports books are self-promoting. “I’m a great coach,” “I’m a great player,” or “this is how you win.” I wanted to do something that was honest and raw and not always flattering, but accurate. I think that self-deprecation in this instance is valuable. There is something important that can be drawn from that type of brutal self-examination and honesty. I hope that people take it the right way. Believe me I’m not proud of everything in there, but when I decided that I was going to do what I did with Sports Illustrated I knew that I had to make a decision. You can’t be a little pregnant. I had to go all the way.
Have you been able to maintain relationships with former clients? Former sports agent colleagues?
With respect to clients, I have some very close friends who are former clients of mine. Some of whom I paid and some of whom I didn’t. One of the most telling things from the original Sports Illustrated piece was how many players confirmed or at least didn’t deny their involvement in taking benefits from me. I think that is in large part to the genuine relationships that were developed over the years and explaining my motives for sharing these stories. I think that is what lead to so many players stepping up and validating what I said.
Now I obviously don’t have any clients left because I was decertified, but the relationships are there. A number of guys are having a book launch to support me. They see that there is a bigger picture here and things can get better for athletes. Hopefully a lot of people can get the message from this book without automatically dismissing it because they have some disdain for the messenger.
As far as other agents, a website called Inside The League and they invited me to speak at the NFL Combine this year. So even though I had the chance to speak before Congress, the California Senate, and at law schools across the country, that was the first time speaking in front of a group of my peers in the sports agent business. I didn’t know what to expect on how I’d be received, but it was a mixed bag. Very few of these other agents I’d consider my friends prior to this. They weren’t going to invite me to dinner and I imagine there aren’t many who would invite me to dinner now and I’m okay with that. But there have been some who are very supportive and genuinely want the industry to get cleaned up. They recognize that I have an opportunity with this platform to do some good and have made it clear they are behind me.
A lot of your recommendations for fixing the system are geared toward helping the athletes rather than making life easier for agents. Have you always viewed an agent’s role as that of an athlete’s advocate?
Maybe it is subconscious, but I’ve always felt that way. It is something I think I’m automatically predisposed to doing based on 18 years of doing it that way. I’m flattered that you picked that up because I sincerely want things to get better for what they call “student-athletes.”
In your experience, when players asked for money was it just for spending money to get by or was it for the big diamond earrings and the fancy cars?
Well they want the tricked out Mercedes when the season is over, but it is a different story when they are in school. I’m a firm believer that 80 to 90 percent of the agent issues would go away if the NCAA would provide the full cost of attendance and fill that gap in what the scholarship covers. I think you will always have those that are greedy, but I think most of the players are just needy.
Do you sense any winds of change coming about from the NCAA, NFL or Congress?
That is one of the things I talk about, this sort of utopia where we could de-regulate everything and start fresh or we could better enforce rules that were more realistic: Students athletes could get paid, have worker’s compensation benefits, and be classified as employees so the NCAA would pay taxes on the billions of dollars that they generate.
The NCAA Divison I Manual says essentially that student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprise. What we’ve seen here over time is that the NCAA themselves have become the commercial enterprise that these players need protected from. There are very few advocacy groups. There is the National Collegiate Players Association that works very hard, but until there is a union it will be very difficult for these players to get what they truly deserve.
In the book you write “Unless all the college prospects in America decide to go on strike, they’re not getting a share of college football dollars.” Do you think this will ever happen?
Probably not. It is a shame. For many of these participants in big time college sports, their greatest value in the market place is during the time they are playing college sports. So few of them go on to the pros. It is downright un-American that they are not in the position to adequately capitalize on their market value. That is not what this country is about. It is a capitalist society and what we have is a socialist system.
What advice do you give to a student who wants to become an agent?
First of all it is not much of a life for someone who wants to be married and have children. If you look at the must successful agents in the business, they are not successful husbands. There is a very high divorce rate there because the priority is always the athlete. That is the demand placed on the agent-athlete relationship.
Also, with respect to getting that legal degree, I know how difficult it is to go through law school. I watched my father before he passed go through it. While practicing medicine all day and being terminally ill, he went to law school at night and I saw how much work he had to put in to earn his law degree. I couldn’t help but think that whole time what a waste it is to do all of that work and how overqualified you would be to chase these 20-year-old kids all over the country.
Would you go back to being an agent if you could?
No, I’m in a much better place mentally and financially. I’ve moved on to a new career in commercial real estate. I have more time around my kids. I coach my daughter’s soccer team, I go to all the school functions. I’m a much better dad than I would have been had I remained in the business. Now is it sexy and fun and do I miss certain parts of it? Yes, but I wouldn’t trade where I am now for a minute. Legacy is the most important thing. The legacy that I’ll leave for my daughters will hopefully be one of the arrows in the quiver for change. At the end of the day if I’m leaving this business a little better than when I was violating all of the rules and was part of the problem then that is something my kids can be proud of when they talk about their dad.
You seemingly worked a miracle to get Maurice Clarett drafted at all, let alone in the third round by the Denver Broncos. Did you really think he would go on the first day?
Absolutely. He was a first round talent. He was his own worst enemy. Had he followed our plan he may have gone in the second round, maybe cracked the first. He was that special of a talent, he was just also that self-destructive.
If you were Mark Sanchez’s agent, how would you feel about the Tebow trade
There is always going to be competition, but based on how I saw Tebow throw the ball, I’d be happy about it.
So what is your next move?
I’m all for letting the market dictate. If people want more, I’ll provide more. I didn’t go into this with some long, thought out strategy. I’m an opportunist by nature, so if opportunities present themselves, I’ll explore them. I didn’t know a year and a half ago when I did the Sports Illustrated cover story that I’d be writing a book. If I had I would have released a year and a half ago to coincide with the SI article. I don’t know what the future holds, but it is important to me that I remain as involved in this movement for change as people want me to be.