By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Johnny Manziel may have really stepped in it this time.
Johnny Football, the only freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy, is reportedly being investigated by the NCAA for signing autographs in exchange for money, allegedly a five-figure flat fee.
That is perfectly within the laws of the land, of course, but violates NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52. This hallowed rule is designed to ensure the student-athletes who play big-time college sports are amateurs, unsullied by the lure of filthy lucre.
One can question the wisdom of such a rule, of course, given the fact Kevin Sumlin, who is Johnny Manziel’s head football coach, will be paid in the neighborhood of $3.1 million this season, which is a very nice neighborhood indeed. In the 2011-2012 school year, Johnny Football’s beloved Texas A&M football program made a $26.5 million profit. That would buy a lot of autographs.
College Station, Texas, home to Johnny Manziel’s university, realized an average of $17 million in average incremental direct spending during each and every one of A&M’s home football games in 2011. I’m not quite sure what average incremental direct spending means, but I do know $17 million is a whole bushel of scratch.
Earlier this year, an outfit named Aggieland Outfitters, a dealer of A&M clothing and memorabilia, auctioned off a helmet autographed by Johnny Manziel for $18,000, which was then donated to the school to help fund scholarships.
So should the young athletes responsible for that coach earning his rich salary, for the university banking a fat profit off its football team, for the school’s scholarship fund being fattened and for the town and its business community filling its coffers on several Saturdays every fall be allowed to profit from their own signatures? That is certainly a subject worthy of lively debate and reasoned scrutiny. What is not debatable, however, is that under the current NCAA rule structure, it is a violation punishable by a loss of a student-athlete’s eligibility.
That means if these allegations against Manziel are true, he will suddenly become Johnny No Football, at least until the end of the season, when he will become eligible to join the National Football League, which is not concerned about its well-paid employees making a little money on the side.
This has been a tumultuous off-season for Johnny Manziel. He has been photographed winning handfuls of cash in an Oklahoma casino, drinking in various venues like New Orleans and Cabo San Lucas (he is only 20), hanging out with celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel and Lebron James, complaining about College Station on Twitter, getting kicked out of a fraternity party at the University of Texas and being asked to leave his job as a counselor at the Manning Passing Camp, run by football’s sainted first family.
Manziel has not thus far demonstrated a great deal of maturity. It is time he did so. He is innocent until proven guilty in the whole signatures for sawbucks debacle, but if he is guilty, it is time for him to own up to his mistake, to let his coach know, to apologize to his teammates and to bid them farewell. There’s no telling when the NCAA might drop the hammer. In the case of Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant a few years ago, the NCAA waited until early October to rule Bryant ineligible for lying about going to the home of former NFL star Deion Sanders.
The Cowboys’ opponent that week? Texas A&M.
If he is guilty, Manziel owes it to his teammates to come clean now, to accept his punishment and to begin looking to his professional career. That would give Sumlin and his staff time to prepare another quarterback to fill the starter’s role in place of Johnny Football.
If he’s not guilty, then Manziel can go back to business as usual, preferably without all the off-field drama.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org