Johnny Manziel has come a long way from being a middle-of-the-pack recruit getting his first start in major college football. In the past 11 months, Manziel has lived like a rock star: developing into the most electrifying player in the game, becoming the youngest Heisman winner ever and having a list of offseason activities that read like they belong in The Hangover 4. All the way, he has lived, played and talked with an attitude that screams, “I couldn’t care less what you think.” Some love him; others despise him. As abrasive as he was, Johnny Football always played by the rules. Now it seems as though he’s finally skipped across that line and is directly in the sights of the NCAA.
Reports have surfaced in recent days that Manziel autographed disputable amounts of memorabilia, numbering from a couple hundred to several thousand in return for a handsome sum of money. Reports have that sum as at least five figures long, though no one has testified as to exactly how much money may have changed hands. If even one dollar was given to Manziel in exchange for any autographed memorabilia, he will be in direct conflict with the NCAA rule that in so many words states that an amateur athlete cannot financially benefit from his or her own name and if they do so, he or her are effectively stripped of their amateur status and college eligibility. There are many arguments to rules like these the NCAA has in place and it may be time for an updating of the rules, but as it stands right now, those are the rules.
If this is not resolved by August 31st when Texas A&M kicks off the season against Rice, head coach Kevin Sumlin is going to have a big decision to make. One option is to play Manziel and risk the whole team’s eligibility for wins, post season play – all while opening the door for other possible punishments. Anyone who has followed the actions of the NCAA in past knows that precedence means nothing and if Texas A&M is found guilty of playing the potentially ineligible Manziel, punishments could range from the metaphorical extremes of a slap on the wrist to a push off a cliff. Sumlin’s other option is to voluntarily sit the Heisman Trophy winner until a verdict is reached by the NCAA. An eerily similar situation happened to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in 2010. They chose to roll the dice and play Newton, believing the NCAA wouldn’t turn up any evidence. They finished the season with an undefeated record, a BCS National Championship and a bonus victory of making the NCAA look the fool. Officials at Texas A&M are praying for a similar outcome.
As much of an indictment as this is on Johnny Manziel’s judgment — because of the peril he put his team in — it is an equal indictment on the NCAA. These autographs were allegedly signed and monetarily exchanged before the BCS National Championship game last season. That was January. Where has the NCAA been on this in the last seven months? If the governing body of college athletics can’t monitor the biggest star they have ever had, who lives his life on social networks, who isn’t shy about having a good time and spending money and who makes national headlines on a weekly basis, who can they monitor?
Add this to list of botched cases by the NCAA in recent years. A short trip down memory lane reveals that no one should be surprised that even if Johnny Manziel is guilty of these actions he might get away with it. Terrelle Pryor received improper benefits for three years before anyone was the wiser. North Carolina had players across several sports registered in fake classes; no penalty. The NCAA is now getting close to year three of an investigation into Miami for improper benefits with no end or penalty in sight. Cam Newton was allegedly offered over $100,000 to attend Mississippi State but supposedly attended Auburn for just a scholarship, which seems perfectly logical.
Everyone is well within their rights to cry out about these athletes and how they are supposedly being greedy and selfish. But before one does so, they should put themselves in the athletes’ shoes for a moment. It is hard to turn down a car or thousands of dollars; it’s even harder for a teenager to do so. It becomes that much more difficult when one realizes that the NCAA has a long history of letting events like these slip by unnoticed and even when found guilty of infractions the penalty isn’t even criminal in nature. The truth is when the NCAA punishes a student athlete, it is because they’ve taken a grasp at straws and finally came up with one while the rest float away. Improper benefits are given to players at virtually every school but only a few get caught. If players like Johnny Manziel are to be held accountable to the NCAA rules, the governing body needs to be held accountable as well.