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Johnny Manziel could be turning tide in favor of student-athletes, not NCAA

Missouri v Texas A M

Missouri v Texas A&M

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Updated: September 10, 2013 6:34AM



These are strange times in the world of major-college sports. Almost too strange to be believed.

On one side of a controversial divide are universities and the NCAA, which roll in dough spread on the backs of student-athletes.

On the other side are the young jocks themselves, who remain under the thumb of the NCAA and its prehistoric rules on amateurism.

Off by himself somewhere is Johnny Manziel, perhaps the most famous college athlete of his generation. But more on Johnny Football, Johnny Signball, Johnny Hancock — whatever you want to call him — in a bit.

If you’re like a growing number of fans around the country, your mind is opening to the concept of college athletes getting paid. Yes, over the table. That might be in the form of monthly stipends paid by schools. It might mean allowing players to charge fees for autographs or be compensated for the use of their likenesses in video games. Maybe it’s all of the above.

You’re also aware the NCAA’s public-approval rating is abysmal.

College football — yes, this is mostly about football — has been marketed into a multibillion-dollar industry, with television rights fees and merchandise sales soaring to previously unthinkable levels. The NCAA, at its core merely a governing body, developed quite a sweet tooth in recent years, gobbling a big ol’ piece of the pie through its online store, where jerseys and other “team” apparel can be purchased at premium prices.

Of course, none of this revenue trickles down into players’ bank accounts. Football players are better cared for than ever in many basic regards — training facilities, academic support, etc. — but, as their sport has boomed by every measurable, they’ve gotten the short end.

Back to Johnny Violin.

For its shoddy investigations and its wildly unpredictable enforcement rulings, the NCAA’s reputation was already shot. Then came the absurd confluence of the latest scandal involving Manziel — the Heisman Trophy-winning Texas A&M quarterback — and the latest example of blatant hypocrisy on the part of the NCAA.

Manziel, as you all know by now, is being investigated by the NCAA to determine if he autographed jerseys, helmets and other items for profit. According to ongoing reports by ESPN, Manziel might have done this sort of thing on a regular basis.

Terrible, right? But many folks seemed to be far more offended that, up until this week, the NCAA was profiting off the jersey numbers of Manziel and all of college football’s biggest stars.

Across the country, the top players are far more famous than ever, and their fame is clearly moving product like never before. As ESPN analyst Jay Bilas showed Tuesday in an all-out Twitter assault on the NCAA, the jersey numbers of Manziel, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and many others were searchable by name at ShopNCAASports.com. That is, until humiliated NCAA president Mark Emmert had the search function deactivated.

“I think the business of having the NCAA sell those goods is a mistake,” Emmert admitted in a conference call with reporters on Thursday, “and we are going to exit that business immediately.”

It may have been a significant step in a player-friendlier direction. What’s really strange, though, is that Manziel has become the name and face of a cause.

Manziel’s a great quarterback. He also has made himself known to the public as a partier, a rabble-rouser, a desperate attention-seeker and, quite likely, as a brazen violator of NCAA rules. The very notion that he has taken any action on behalf of other college athletes is laughable.

Despite himself, Manziel — a football player who seems to have a career death wish — is turning the tide of opinion against NCAA rules on amateurism. And the NCAA already might have begun to loosen its grip.

Like we said, strange times.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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