The NCAA has declared it is alive and will soon slow the cash flow from name, image and likeness that is influencing recruiting.
An astute reader asked if this is fact or fiction. My one personal experience with the NCAA leaped forth in response.
Years and years ago, maybe 1977, an NCAA investigator called to ask about my involvement in Tennessee football recruiting.
My response: “Do you want to make a deal, an exchange of information?”
Oh no, he couldn’t do that, all sorts of restrictions and confidentiality agreements prohibited such talk.
When I said “Do call again some time,” he made a slight adjustment. He asked what was it I wanted to know.
“Is this about Breck Tyler?”
“Yes, but that’s all I can tell you,” he said.
I said Breck and I were friends, that I had known him since he was 13. He was a loyal reader of my football stories in Athlon magazine.
Breck’s dad, Bob, was coach at Mississippi State. Son asked father if he knew me. Yes, he is a sportswriter in Knoxville, why do you ask?
Breck said he wanted to meet me and find out how I did what I did.
Bob said OK and told Breck how to do it. Check the basketball schedule. On the day the Tennessee team comes to Starkville, look along the press table for his name. When a man with a portable typewriter, a briefcase and a burr haircut finds that seat, long before tipoff, go introduce yourself. Ask if he will talk with you. He will.
A bright boy, composed, said “Sir, I’m Breck Tyler.”
For five years we talked each January or February. Conversations were intriguing. I actually arrived early to have more time with him. I asked many more questions than he did.
He grew into a star receiver at his high school. He said he was going to visit the University of Tennessee as a prospective recruit.
I said: “If your schedule permits, we’d like you to visit our church and have Sunday lunch at our house.”
Breck said that would be great. I gave him a phone number – just in case.
Weeks later, he called. He said coach Johnny Majors approved the plan but cautioned him to be on best behavior and have no more than two servings of Sarah’s cheesecake.
I picked up Breck at Gibbs Hall. We talked briefly about his football future. It seemed he had mostly decided to be a Bulldog and play for his dad.
His church talk addressed the excitement of young life and temptations that waited in ambush. It was a terrific five-minute sermon.
At our house, we talked about newspapers and sportswriters and statistics and fans. Our sons, Mike and Gary, challenged him to a billiards match in the den. Much too soon, when it was time to go, I gave him two black and white photographs, slightly curled culls from a Friday evening news shoot at a group function he attended. I had rescued the Bill Dye 8x10s from a trash can.
Much later, on a day when Bob Tyler was extra-irritated with some Mississippi sportswriters, the coach told the story of Breck’s recruiting visit to Tennessee. He may have embellished how far the Knoxville sportswriter went out of his way to make his son feel like part of the family.
Coach Tyler said nobody ever did anything like that for Mississippi State.
A Jackson sportswriter thought it would be fun to turn me in.
The NCAA investigator listened carefully. I swear I could hear him smile over the phone. He said he wished he could chase down and unravel all recruiting issues so simply. I told him to remember “restrictions and confidentiality” and never tell anybody what I had said or done.
Times have changed. The cheesecake was really good but two throw-away photos and a free lunch would be a poor recruiting equalizer for $8 million.
College sports are undergoing evolution. The way things are pointed, there may not be next-generation NCAA investigators. There may not be an NCAA.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org