The NCAA reportedly is investigating Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel over allegations that he sold his autograph to memorabilia dealers for a five-figure sum. This could become a watershed case in college athletics, but assigning blame is not a one-sided argument.
Do you blame Manziel for seeking to profit off his fame, success and Johnny Football mystique? Or do you blame a self-serving NCAA that clings to archaic rules and principles.
The answer is yes. Blame both for this messy situation, which has raised questions about Manziel’s eligibility and, in the process, exposed the hypocrisy of college athletics and the NCAA’s culpability.
College sports — football in particular — have become such a financial behemoth that everyone wants and deserves a piece of the action. That quaint notion of amateurism was once a fine concept, but this is not a mom-and-pop operation.
According to estimates, the Big Ten Network will pay each member school at least $30 million annually once Rutgers and Maryland join the conference in 2014 and open doors to new television markets.
Have you seen photos of Oregon’s new football complex? The 145,000-square foot palace reportedly cost $68 million and includes a lobby wall that features 64 55-inch televisions, a barber shop inside the locker room, rugs imported from Nepal and a two-story theater.
Ah, the smell of amateurism.
The anti-NCAA chorus is in full throat over the Manziel investigation, but the Texas A&M quarterback hardly paints himself as a sympathetic figure. If the investigation ultimately discovers that Manziel sold his autograph for profit, he deserves to be punished based on his own selfishness.
Yes, NCAA rules that prohibit athletes from profiting from their likeness or fame are antiquated, but Manziel jeopardized his eligibility and his team’s legitimate national championship aspirations by ignoring a basic rule that every college athlete should know. If true, he went for a money grab because he’s Johnny Football and he does whatever he wants, judging by his eventful offseason activities.
His method was wrong, but his intent makes sense. Johnny Football the player and brand became a cash cow for Texas A&M, but Johnny Manziel the person could only watch as everyone else got rich(er) off his talent.
Jay Bilas, an ESPN college basketball analyst and dogged NCAA critic, further exposed the NCAA’s hypocrisy last week when he typed the name of various college athletes — including Manziel — into a search feature on the NCAA’s merchandise shop website. Replica jerseys without the players’ names appeared.
The online shop also included an autographed photo of former Southern California running back Reggie Bush, who forfeited his Heisman Trophy after an NCAA investigation over improper benefits resulted in heavy sanctions against USC.
NCAA President Mark Emmert promptly announced that the NCAA website no longer will sell player jerseys. Keep in mind the NCAA is being sued by current and former players over the use of their likenesses.
The NCAA and member schools should no longer be allowed to hide behind the shield of amateurism while making obscene profits. The landscape has changed; so should the rules of governance.
The argument that a scholarship represents a suitable trade-off falls short in today’s big-business climate. It’s absurd that an athlete can’t receive money for his autograph, yet his autographed helmet can fetch thousands on eBay.
Would a rule change prevent some unscrupulous booster from paying the star quarterback $100,000 for his autograph? No, but that also could happen with or without an autograph.
The NCAA is considering legislation that covers a full-cost scholarship, which would provide athletes a $2,000 stipend for spending money. Critics argue that a stipend would widen the divide between the haves and have-nots, but an equal playing field doesn’t exist in college athletics, not in this age of lucrative conference TV networks and facilities arms race.
According to various reports, five BCS conferences, including the Big Ten, are primed to form a new division within the NCAA and operate under their own rules. They would have power to enact their own guidelines on everything from stipends to recruiting. Maybe they even would allow athletes to sell their autographs.
College sports feel as if they’ve arrived at a crossroads. The amateurism model is outdated and needs reform. Business is booming, but a star athlete faces significant punishment for allegedly selling his autograph. Something seems fundamentally wrong with that.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org