For two former Michigan football players, the situation at Ohio State that pushed Jim Tressel to resign on May 30 wasn’t all that surprising.
According to Larry Foote and Jarrett Irons — two all-time Michigan football greats — it may be the best (or worst) kept secret in all of college football: big time players do receive some sort of payment or compensation.
Albeit, the players at Ohio State allegedly didn’t receive payment to play, rather, they broke NCAA rules by exchanging memorabilia for improper benefits.
“It’s a lot bigger than Tressel,” said Foote, who was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2001. “I’ve been telling people that. It’s a lot bigger. College atmospheres, big universities and athletic programs, they’re dirty — a lot of them are dirty. And coaches, they’ve got to take the fall.”
Both Foote and Irons said that in each of their own unique experiences they have come to understand it is common. Yet both denied any wrongdoing happening at Michigan.
“When I was at Michigan,” Foote continued, “that’s one thing I pride myself about Michigan, because the stories I hear about other teams with the money and the alumni and the stuff like that, the stuff I’m hearing — I mean it is brand new.
“And people don’t understand when they ask me, ‘How much money did you get?’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ I’ve never even heard of players at Michigan getting money. Not one story.
“So when I go other places, and hear these other players, it’s funny — some world I’ve never even seen or heard about.”
Foote played linebacker for Michigan from 1998-2001 before being selected in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2002 NFL Draft. Having just completed his ninth season in the NFL, Foote has spent all but one season of his career with the Steelers.
In 2001, Foote’s Wolverines were upset by Ohio State in Tressel’s first season as head coach. Foote said the 10-year stretch of losing to Tressel and Ohio State, when the Buckeyes won nine out of 10 games against the Wolverines, hurt his wallet when it came to friendly wagers against teammates, like former Buckeye Santonio Holmes.
In those nine years, Foote has had plenty of contact with players from other prominent college football schools and got a glimpse behind the scenes at other programs.
“Everyone I talk to, most of the time they went to big schools and they got paid,” Foote said. “I don’t have no names and stuff like that.
“But it’s just, Michigan, they pride ourselves — Lloyd Carr didn’t play that.”
Ohio State’s starting quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, as well as four other key Buckeyes were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for receiving improper benefits involving allegedly trading team memorabilia for tattoos. Another player had received a smaller suspension, too. And in a Sports Illustrated story released early last week, a total of 28 players were implicated as to being involved in the same illicit behavior dating back to 2002.
At that time, Jarrett Irons was just about done with his three or so years he spent working for IMG. While there, he held a variety of positions working with several sports, but he did develop a relationship with some professional football players, some of which he called friends. He was recruiting them to come to IMG.
Irons played linebacker at Michigan from 1993-1996, and was an All-American his senior year. But he was cut during training camp with the Arizona Cardinals and decided to go back to Michigan to get his masters degree in Marketing. That opened the door to IMG in 2000.
At IMG, he was shown the same new world Foote had his eyes opened to.
“Any of the stuff that went on at Ohio State, I wasn’t shocked by it,” Irons said. “I mean, you hear stuff happening like that at other schools all the time.”
Irons said it was “common” to hear stories about players being paid when he was recruiting players to sign with IMG.
And Tressel’s ignorance towards Pryor’s new cars, which, according to ESPN, has become the new focus of the NCAA’s probe on Ohio State, is hard to believe.
“I think it’s hard to imagine that he didn’t know a lot of that stuff was going on, especially the car situation,” Irons said.
“Anybody who got a new car (at Michigan), from a compliance standpoint we always had to submit where we got the car, or this or that.”
Irons added that the players had to submit whose name the car was under among other paperwork.
The details emerging from Ohio State and even the situation surrounding quarterback Cam Newton at Auburn — in which Newton’s father allegedly brokered deals with colleges to exchange his son’s commitment for monetary rewards — are the norm for Irons.
“Especially with some other schools, maybe in other conferences, you talk to other guys — I mean, everybody was — you hear about guys getting paid,” Irons said.
“It was weird to hear about how many people get paid to go to certain schools. I never experienced that just from a high school level. It seems as though stuff like that has gone on for a while.”
Irons declined to go into further detail.
The NCAA infamously gave Southern Methodist the “death penalty” in the late 1980s for paying players under the table. The Mustangs were prohibited from playing football in 1987 and decided, on its own, that it was unable to field a team in 1988.
More recently this past fall, ESPN reported that Cecil Newton — Cam Newton’s father — told Mississippi State that “the money was too much” at Auburn, during Newton’s recruitment out of junior college.
Ohio State’s scandal is just the latest black mark in a long string of malfeasance in college football.
“It’s common,” Irons said. “I’ve heard of people getting paid. It’s not out of the ordinary.”