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Why the NCAA is wrong about Johnny Manziel

Texas A M Spring Football Game

Texas A&M Spring Football Game

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Updated: September 21, 2013 6:26AM



My uncle had me drive his Cadillac once when I was maybe 17 years old.

Full of teenage bravado, I thought it was a suitable vehicle for a cool-hand young man with my obvious driving talent … until I got behind the wheel. The front seat seemed bigger than our living room couch. A light tap of the gas pedal foretold the enormous power under the hood. The power steering responded to the mere suggestion of a turn. The dashboard offered a space-age array of dials, gauges, lights, etc. — and this was, well, quite a few pre-digital years ago.

It was a sleek, stylish ride, for sure, but too much car for a kid my age. I was relieved when I turned it to back my uncle, dent-free and unharmed.

I’ve been reminded of that experience the last few months while watching each lamentable stop on Johnny Manziel’s self-destruction tour. From small-town East Texas teenager to international celebrity in less than a calendar year, Manziel calls to mind a cocky kid who has been flipped the keys to a souped-up sports car he has no clue how to drive, but he’s going to hop in, rev the engine and peel off anyway.

Reckless? More than a little. “Johnny Football” — the insufferably big-ego nickname he has never bothered to disavow — has to know he’s a magnet for social media voyeurs, but he keeps putting himself in ridiculous situations.

The Mannings are to football what the Kennedys are to politics in this country — royalty. And getting bounced from their quarterbacks camp wasn’t the dumbest thing Manziel has done since he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

That would be jeopardizing his Texas A&M eligibility — allegedly — by signing a boatload of jerseys and such for a shady memorabilia dealer seeking to make a quick buck off Manziel’s notoriety before his feckless escapades turn Mr. Football into Mr. Irrelevant.

Anybody remember Maurice Clarett? A case study in too much, too soon.

An Ohio State misadventure of more recent vintage should have sent up warning signs to Manziel. It was only two years ago that glamour-guy quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a half-dozen teammates had to sit out much of a season after they were found to have swapped Buckeyes memorabilia for tattoos, of all things, as well as cash and other less permanent merchandise. Jim Tressel, winner of 83 percent of his games and the 2002 national championship as the Buckeyes’ coach, was fired over his less than forthright handling of the matter.

The NCAA, clearly, takes a dim view of athletes trading on their fame. Every dollar they generate — and the total runs to the billions — is supposed to wind up in the coffers of member schools and the institution itself, with plenty left over for administrators and coaches, such as $6 Million Man Nick Saban.

If you’d care to dine with Manziel at a preseason kickoff dinner sponsored by a Texas A&M booster club, $20,000 will get you a seat at his table. His school can and will make millions off the whole Johnny Football thing, but the kid himself can’t pocket a dime.

And until ESPN’s Jay Bilas recently pointed out the hypocrisy, a Texas A&M jersey bearing Manziel’s No. 2 was available for purchase online at the NCAA store. Who was profiting from that?

Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit over unauthorized use of his UCLA basketball likeness on a video game has opened eyes to the realization that college athletes are an unpaid work force in a billion-dollar industry. Examples of exploitation and/or hypocrisy are everywhere.

Is anything other than money driving the conference reshuffling that has Indiana resident Notre Dame joining the Atlantic Coast Conference and Midwest citadels Maryland and Rutgers heading for the Big Ten?

Brian Kelly yelped like a scalded cat when Eddie Vanderdoes won an appeal and was given immediate eligibility at UCLA after reneging on a commitment to Notre Dame. The Irish refused to release him from his letter of intent, so Vanderdoes would have had to sit out a year as a transfer student. This is the same Brian Kelly who left Cincinnati with four years remaining on a contract he bought his way out of and didn’t miss a game at Notre Dame, much less a season.

Different standards for coaches and players.

The sheer volume of money involved defines college sports as a professional enterprise, and outdated rules governing amateurism can no longer be realistically or equitably enforced. It’s head-in-the-sand wrong to believe otherwise.



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