There’s no shortage of funny stories about recruiting violations that exasperate NCAA Pinkertons and head-in-their-ass amateurism purists. It should be noted these are light moments in an otherwise sad story about the consolidation of power and the mistreatment of labor, but if you’re a realistic college football fan, you’re likely no stranger to gallows humor.
During a recent conversation about recruiting with a source, I was delivered an anecdotal gem so luminous that I have to share it publicly:
“[Current FBS head coach] once went into a gas station that a family member owned and bought everything inside of it when he was at [former school].”
What? Everything? Sure, you can clean out the candy and soda and beer, but are we talking about actually everything? The jugs of antifreeze? Cigarettes? That dusty stack of outdated phone chargers? Lotto scratchers?
There’s a lot of weird shit you can buy at most gas stations in Anywhere, America, Hell, in most of the SEC (get your shit together, Missouri) there’s a functioning meat-and-three restaurant in most gas stations. My neighborhood convenience store in Nashville sells nightcrawlers on the weekend. How far are we taking this, coach?
I pressed for details:
“He gave wads of cash to random neighborhood kids and told them to go in and buy all they could and they could keep it.”
After years of collecting stories about the underground economy of college football, this might be my favorite tale. It plays wonderfully, and on multiple levels:
- It’s hilariously gaudy. Why not just give the station-owning relative the damn money yourself? It’s untraceable cash. And imagine how much longer this way took. You hand maybe three or four kids a hundred dollar bill each? At a time? Even if the kids recruited their friends, the coach had to be there all day.
- It’s actually a brilliant gift to the owner. Mom-and-pop gas stations — still common in rural America — don’t survive off of selling gas. The margins for products inside the store are much better for owners. So not only did this coach perform some hasty ad hoc laundering of cash to the recruit’s family via legitimate commerce, he provided the best possible profit margins .
- It’s so purposefully public. While so many stories about paying players center around concerns like discretion and deniability, this is a “crime” committed in plain view – and with children recruited to the cause, no less! CROOTCEPTIONING.
- It’s an all-time high-step to NCAA Enforcement. I have daydreamed about a scenario in which some rival school finds out about this stunt and reports it, only for some naive enforcement agent to go door to door trying to bully neighborhood children over gifted Hot Cheetos and Airheads like it’s a network cop drama.
But what sticks with me the most is that this behavior is the mimicry of gangsters, at least the kind of gangsters a football coach sees in movies. Hell, it’s a film trope. Just off the top of my head, there’s this scene from a Scorsese film, and then there’s this one. You hand out to the neighborhood kids to build sympathy for your cause, and to prevent law enforcement from compelling witnesses to their civic duty. Which is why I can’t stop laughing — I’m convinced this coach saw this trick in a movie or on TV and thought he could pull it off. And he did.