By now you know that Johnny Manziel is back in the news again. ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program reported yesterday that the Texas A&M quarterback is under NCAA investigation for “signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia” for profit. The signings reportedly took place in January “in exchange for a five-figure flat fee during his trip to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship.” Two anonymous source claim to have witnessed the signing, but not the cash exchange.
In the immediate aftermath of the ESPN report, many columnists have focused just as much attention on the NCAA’s rule — viewed by many as a bad one — as they have what would be another instance of Manziel showing poor judgement. Unfortunately for Manziel and Texas A&M, whether people like the rule or not, it is in place. It is the law of the college land. And if the NCAA can prove that Manziel violated it — a five-figure deal would be quite brazen — the most exciting player in college football might not play as much ball this fall as everyone had hoped.
If you are not a fan of the NCAA’s rules on amateur status, that’s fine. But as long as the NCAA is going to be a home to amateur athletics, the rule does make sense. Here’s why: Imagine Player X is a hotshot recruit from the state of Alabama. Now imagine that players were allowed to profit from memorabilia sales only — they wouldn’t be paid, but they could sell their autograph or jerseys. What would stop Alabama and Auburn boosters — just going on past precedents for the sake of example — from telling Player X that they would buy $10,000 worth of the kid’s memorabilia every year while he’s at Bama? Or on the Plains? What would stop Ohio State or Southern Cal boosters from offering more “memorabilia sales?” Such a loophole would be big enough for cheating boosters to drive a limo through.
So as is the case with most NCAA rules, this particular loophole is closed completely. If it were opened even a inch that gap would be exploited.
As long as college athletes are to be considered amateur athletes, selling memorabilia will be outlawed. The problem for A&M is that Manziel appears to be a scofflaw. For all the complaining he and his family have done about Texas A&M’s compliance department sticking its nose into Manziel family business, this one — if true — would show that TAMU officials apparently had good reason to be worried.
Manziel knows this particular rule. Hell, after Tattoogate at Ohio State, every college athlete in the country should be fully aware of the fact that you can’t trade your autograph or jerseys for tattoos, cash, beads or pelts. Manziel — allegedly — cut a deal to sell autographed memorabilia anyway.
The NCAA has the authority to check the quarterback’s bank account to see if $10,000+ were deposited sometime after January. If the Heisman-winner did get paid, he put his career and the Aggies’ football season in jeopardy for money he and his family didn’t even need in the first place. They have oil money. Johnny Football has used it to jet across the continent this offseason. He’s used it to buy high-dollar seats at sporting events. We all saw him at those games. We all read his complaints when he was asked how he got the tickets. His quote from April: “They keep sending me questionnaires asking me who’s funding the trip? Who’s doing this? Everytime I respond back, ‘ME, ME and ME,’ in capital letters.”
Turns out Manziel’s “me, me, me” attitude might just come back to burn him and his team.
The fact that Manziel’s family has cash makes this latest episode even more baffling, foolish and frustrating than the silly stuff he’s made news for these past few months. Baffling, foolish and frustrating… but not surprising. Outside of Aggie Nation, who didn’t see more issues on the horizon for Manziel? The young man apparently gets very little guidance from his parents. According to those parents, he doesn’t get much leadership or aid from his school, either.
Manziel has been a front-page story all offseason. Those type athletes rarely turn into wallflowers overnight. For that reason, we have suspected and stated that we wouldn’t trust Manziel to make it through the season without causing another distraction. Well, we were wrong. Manziel didn’t make it to the season without finding himself in the middle of a new controversy.
So much for all those folks who’ve been saying that A&M’s quarterback will account for 500 yards in the Aggies’ opener and then all his summer issues will be forgotten. Now there’s a legitimate concern that Manziel won’t even be on the field for Texas A&M’s opener.
Last week a Sports Illustrated feature on Manziel quoted the QB as saying: “You love me when I’m running around being dangerous and a loose cannon. What makes me special on the field is what people don’t like off the field.”
A loose cannon? That he is. Unfortunately he’s never learned that NFL general managers aren’t looking for loose cannons off the field. For a guy who is undersized and has but one year of college football under his belt, his loose cannon act could already be costing him high-pick NFL money. That’s a heckuva lot more money than five-figures, by the way.
Kellen Moore did nothing but win football games at Boise State. Unfortunately his height prevented him from being drafted. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray had the stature and the arm strenght of a first-rounder. Unfortunately, his off-field shenanigans kept him from being selected. Combine Moore’s size with Bray’s immaturity and you have Manziel.
Hell, even Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett — a kid who had the right size and a good on-field resume — did a free-fall into the third round of the draft based solely on rumored activities. Throw the Aaron Hernandez affair into the mix and you can be sure NFL franchises will be even more careful with their draft picks next April. That’s all bad news for Johnny Football.
Lacking proper guidance, Manziel once again appears to be heading down the Todd Marinovich turnpike straight toward Ryan Leaf-ville. The 20-year-old has brought a good many issues — including this one if it’s true — on himself. But the kid has become an overnight star without anyone helping him navigate the transition from redshirt freshman to “Mr. 400,000 Twitter followers.” That’s not an easy transition to make with help, much less without it.
Manziel is too good a player and too likeable a young man — by most accounts — to throw so much away. Here’s hoping he hasn’t cost himself eligibility with his latest poor decision. Texas A&M needs him. College football needs him. And he needs college football.
Between the white lines appears to be the only area where Manziel’s loose cannon approach doesn’t come back to bite him.