by Kent Sterling
The NCAA is reportedly investigating Johnny Manziel for taking a payment in exchange for signing his name a few dozen times. If they find Manziel took one dollar, his eligibility at Texas A&M will likely be permanently lost.
No big deal for Johnny Football as he has tweeted that being a Heisman Trophy winning college quarterback on the Texas A&M campus is hell on earth. Manziel wins twice in this scenario as he pocketed a healthy wad of cash and escapes College Station in one move.
The question of why players are prevented from taking cash in exchange for sharing their image rings in my head every time a story like this bubbles to the surface. Journalists question the intellect and morality of a kid who accepts gifts for services, while I question the ability of the NCAA to restrict the ability for anyone but the schools, media, coaches, and NCAA itself to profit from the work product of a student athlete like Manziel.
Peyton Manning has earned millions for signing his name during a long NFL career, and people love him for being a good and honorable man. Johnny Manziel does the same thing, and he’s a me-first pariah.
I understand the reason for the rule. If players are allowed to take cash for autographs, boosters will pay outrageous sums to even marginal players to help the program attract more and better players. Once that Pandora’s Box opens, closing it will be impossible, and the facade of amateurism will be lost forever. Winning programs will be those with the wealthiest boosters.
Is it really morally acceptable to view the very valuable images of a Heisman Trophy winner like Manziel as property of a university, rather than the true owner – the athlete himself. Manziel’s jerseys have flown off the shelves for the past year. People inside the school’s administration claim that the jerseys move because of passion for the Aggies. Yeah? Well, replace those #2s with the #16s of backup QB Matt Joeckel and see what happens to sales.
Every time Manziel signs a helmet for Texas A&M or a jersey bearing his number, the university gets a fat cut, and Manziel’s reward is the pass through expense of a scholarship as well as room and board.
Manziel, like several football and basketball players whose popularity outgrows the ability of the university to protect them, is unable to attend classes personally anyway, so the player in this case becomes much less a student than an athlete/profit center for the athletic department.
What the ultimate outcome would be for college football and men’s college basketball if the NCAA allowed players to feed a trust fund with profits from the sale of memorabilia bearing their image is hard to predict, but the days of a school being able to use up a kid’s value while not giving him a taste are coming to an end – and rightly so.
The NCAA’s efforts to fortify the quicksand on which college athletics is built as a bastion of high-minded amateurism have failed, and it has two choices – adapt and evolve or stand proud and die.
Instead of looking at Manziel as a scofflaw who turned his back on a team, I would choose to view him as a renegade who had no respect for a bad rule that restricts his ability to monetize his value on the free market. It would be great if every popular player followed Manziel’s lead to take impermissible benefits – flood the NCAA with such a massive level of disregard for their anachronistic rulebook that they can no longer enforce any of them.
It’s unlikely Manziel gave more thought than “Money is good!” to his decision to accept cash for signing some knick-knacks, if he indeed did that, but the result of the most popular player in college football being ineligible because of the continued enforcement of dubious rule has a chance to cause change long overdue in big money college athletics.
Hopefully, there are more and more student-athletes who look at the absurd salaries being paid to coaches and decide to throw so many monkey wrenches into the NCAA’s machine that they have no choice but to adjust their policies.
Maybe Manziel can be the guy who initiates the launch sequence that propels the NCAA into an age of enlightenment they have successfully avoided despite massive growth in revenue for everyone involved but the people on the field and court.