Myths and Mysteries: dark money in college sports

As we continue our series of guest columns on Myths and Mysteries in college sports, David Wunderlich steps to the plate.

Wunderlich is co-manager of the SB Nation SEC site Team Speed Kills, with Brandon Larrabee. He — like other unsung College Sports Twitter stars — was invited to comment on the most underreported college sports story of the past 25 years.

David’s entry is relevant on its own terms, but it’s of natural and particular interest to SEC fans. It also cites one of the finer pieces of college football journalism in recent years — this one, which you can read here. If you take the time to revisit that story, you’ll be able to appreciate a lot more of what David says below.

David has the floor:


The most underreported story in college sports over the last 25 years is how the dark money works. I’m talking about the under-the-table money that filters its way to athletes and their families in spite of the rules against it.

It’s underreported because it almost always can’t be reported. Unless there is a whistleblowing player like Eric Ramsey or a disgruntled booster like Nevin Shapiro, almost nothing can go to print or air that would follow standard journalistic practices. SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey took a pass at it with his 2014 exposé “Meet the Bag Man,” but no one spoke on record and he had to redact all identifiable details like school and place names to even get anyone to comment for it.

The piece detailed well that the bag man system gets away with it because there is no hard proof, and hard proof is generally what editors require before they publish something. Even long after the fact, loyalties to schools (among many other things) keep basically everyone on both sides of the transactions from going on the record about it. Reporters don’t seem to like even doing a story like “Meet the Bag Man” because, as happened to Godfrey, they get accused of just making everything up when they use anonymous sources.

So instead we get vague stories about bag men, street agents, runners, crooked AAU coaches, and hundred dollar handshakes, but no specifics.

What are the names of those who do the paying? How do they pull it off? How do the information networks work? What percentage of players get money? Who turns it down, and why? We’ll never know, and that’s by design.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.