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Logan Young's conviction

Alabama booster Logan Young was found guilty on federal charges of conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering (!) charges in the Albert Means-Lynn Lang case. I am not sure where the money laundering charge comes in, except as a back door for applying the RICO statute. With full knowledge that the combination of RICO enforcement and the NCAA rulebook is potentially brutal, I tentatively conclude that there is a beneficial impact of this decision on big-time college athletics.

Here is my perspective. As an economist, and a person who believes people have an inherent right to be paid what they are worth, I am in favor of paying college football players. I also have no doubt that I am in the minority on this issue. Most fans don't want college athletes to choose their schools on the basis of cash considerations, and NCAA rules cater (quite happily) to this demand.

The NCAA's restriction on cash offers forces player inducement to devolve into third-order implicit payment schemes. These schemes, however, are ones the NCAA can live with - mark this photo of the Texas Longhorns' locker room as exhibit #1. Additional restrictions on non-cash payments help preserve a significant portion of the rent generated by unpaid players, and keep it from being fully dissipated.

But step back in time for a moment, and consider the evolution of pay for play in college football. In the post-war era, cash payments were commonplace, and widely noted. For example, a 1949 article in Sport magazine alleged that Choo Choo Justice went to North Carolina because their bid topped that of 50 rivals, and that Justice's "income at Carolina was slightly under that of a top player in the NFL." In the days of the SMU death penalty - and for many years before - bidders at SEC and SWC schools allegedly gave shoe-boxes full of cash to get players to sign for them.

Over time, stepped up NCAA enforcement made cash payments to players riskier. These risks were further increased as the growing media spotlight revealed the propensity of some players to employ blackmail should hush money not be paid - mark the Eric Ramsey case as exhibit #2. But the value of attracting top talent to campus also increased during this period, thus increasing a schools' incentive to cheat. I suspect that more effective NCAA enforcement has offset the increased incentive to cheat in the past fifteen years or so.

However, one effect of stepped-up enforcement was to merely push cash payments further down the chain, to people in the network that could be trusted more than Eric Ramsey. By and large, these were high school coaches such as Memphis' Lang, who would use their influence to steer students one way or another. Some payments in this network are likely direct, as alleged in the Means case, but my hunch is that a far greater proportion are indirect.

The Means case will not put an end to this back-channel method of influence, but the verdict significantly raises the cost of using cash payments to deliver players to schools. Do this, and you are a "racketeer" in violation of Federal law. This is great news for the NCAA, at least on the surface, and that's what they care about most. It will sharply reduce the use of large cash payments designed to influence which school a player attends. The money will continue to work its way through the system for this purpose, but through indirect channels -- channels that the NCAA can live with, if not outright endorse.

Fans don't want money to be a large part of determining which school players sign for in college athletics. The NCAA is not naive however, and knows full well that money will be influential one way or another. But the NCAA prefers that money's impact be indirect, and not readily observed by the fans. Thus, the conviction of Logan Young plays right into their hands. It was a great day in court for the NCAA.