Right on the heels of recent news that Tyler Bray and Maurice Couch accepted money in violation of NCAA rules, a disclosure that resulted in Couch's suspension, former Tennessee running back Arian Foster has disclosed that he, too, took money in violation of rules while a player at Tennessee.
In an interview for an upcoming documentary, Foster talks of having to go to extremes in order to have enough money to pay rent and eat. Here are a few relevant quotes:
"I don't know if this will throw us into an NCAA investigation -- my senior year, I was getting money on the side," said Foster. "I really didn't have any money. I had to either pay the rent or buy some food. I remember the feeling of like, 'Man, be careful.' But there's nothing wrong with it. And you're not going to convince me that there is something wrong with it.
"There were plenty of times where throughout the month I didn't have enough for food," Foster said in the 90-minute documentary. "Our stadium had like 107,000 seats; 107,000 people buying a ticket to come watch us play. It's tough just like knowing that, being aware of that. We had just won and I had a good game, 100 yards or whatever You go outside and there's hundreds of kids waiting for you. You're signing autographs, taking pictures, whatever.
"Then I walk back, and reality sets in. I go to my dorm room, open my fridge, and there's nothing in my fridge. Hold up, man. What just happened? Why don't I have anything to show for what I just did? There was a point where we had no food, no money, so I called my coach and I said, 'Coach, we don't have no food. We don't have no money. We're hungry. Either you give us some food, or I'm gonna go do something stupid.' He came down and he brought like 50 tacos for like four or five of us. Which is an NCAA violation. [laughs] But then, the next day I walk up to the facility and I see my coach pull up in a brand new Lexus. Beautiful."
"I'm a firm believer that an employee should get paid for his work," Foster added. "And, 100 percent, I see student athletes as employees. Hiding from it is just cowardly."
Okay a few quick thoughts. First, the conversation about whether NCAA athletes should get a cut (or a bigger cut, depending on your perspective) is one that needs to happen. And it has to be a conversation that has a goal of some concrete resolution. It's a complex issue, though, and this post isn't about that.
Second, these statements made me raise my eyebrows a bit. Don't football players basically have all of the food they want provided to them? And can't they live on campus for free? Just saying. Tell me if I'm wrong about that.
Third . . . Arian, what are you doing? Assuming he needed food, had to eat, and had no way to get money, and assuming everyone in the world agreed that the rules prohibiting him from eating are stupid. Still, why talk about breaking the rules? Why talk about it now? What does this do to Tennessee, which is still on probation for prior violations? Perhaps five years ago is outside the scope of the NCAA's authority or interest, or perhaps the public opinion will restrain them. But . . . perhaps not.
Tennessee's been working hard to clear the rubble of the past decade and start rebuilding, but the past is a particularly persistent cuss that continues to keep biting the program and its fans in the butt every time we think we've rounded a corner. That it's not only largely self-inflicted but also self-resurrecting is especially perplexing.
Perhaps this will turn out to be nothing. Perhaps it will do only what I honestly think Foster is hoping, further the cause of getting NCAA athletes a fairer share of the riches generated in part by their efforts. But perhaps all it does is give the NCAA another target and further diminish this program. And we sure didn't need more of this news.