The Heisman Trophy winner will be benched for the first half of the Aggies’ first game. Generally, when a Heisman Trophy winner misses out on the first half of his college team’s first game, it is because he jumped ship for the NFL. Yet, as with many other things in his life, things are different with Johnny Manziel. Manziel will miss the first half of the Aggies’ first game of the season because the NCAA determined that he signed some memorabilia for some autograph brokers who could profit off of the items.
While this story has nearly been beaten like a dead horse, there is one angle that no other entity seems to be taking: What is the real reason why the NCAA agreed to such a light penalty against Manziel?
Everyone thus far has been quick to argue that the NCAA and Texas A&M have much to lose financially if Manziel doesn’t play in the Aggies’ first game against Rice. Furthermore, both parties would arguably be damaged more detrimentally if Manziel was suspended further into the season. While this is a plausible argument, it isn’t the best argument for why such a light penalty was imposed against Manziel.
The reason why this argument doesn’t make sense entirely, is that even though Manziel is an intriguing character who brings many eyeballs towards televisions to watch him play on Saturday’s, he is not the only drawing force in college football. In actuality, there are far more intriguing games this weekend, namely Georgia versus Clemson, and as interesting of players taking the field elsewhere.
To sum it up, Manziel doesn’t run the NCAA.
What then, is the more likely rationale for the slight penalty against Manziel?
Sure, you could point to the NCAA’s argument that no credible evidence was found that Manziel accepted money for his autograph. And while I’m someone who believes in the goodness of people and roots for Manziel, I have a hard time believing that a 20-year-old on a trip to South Beach was gratuitous enough to sign thousands of pieces of memorabilia for nothing. Assuming that he did, though, Texas A&M must enroll Manziel in an economics course immediately so he can learn of the values of capitalism.
The NCAA will only continue to point to the lack of credible evidence as its reason for lightly slapping Manziel’s wrists because it doesn’t want to address the elephant in the room. That elephant in the room is a case by the name of O’Bannon v. NCAA. In short, that case centers around whether student-athletes should be compensated for the use of their likenesses in video games and game broadcasts. It is a case, the decision of which, could greatly restructure and/or decimate the current economic landscape of collegiate athletics.
While the O’Bannon case relates to video games and broadcast rights, the NCAA has to believe that if the foundation is broken there, the walls will come crumbling down. The potential areas for which student-athletes may seek back-compensation, if a jury finds in favor of the O’Bannon plaintiffs, is arguably limitless. Jersey sales. Cap sales. T-shirt sales. Picture sales. Mini helmet sales. And so on and so forth.
This point was only exacerbated last week when ESPN host and lawyer and frequent critic of the NCAA’s amateurism model Jay Bilas demonstrated how a quick search on the NCAA’s website for various players’ names, including Manziel’s, returned items for sale related to the player. For instance, a search for Manziel retrieved a Texas A&M shirt with his number on the back. In response to Bilas’ lengthy demonstration of his findings via Twitter, fans and supporters of college athletes raged. The hypocrisy that has loomed over the NCAA and its amateurism model was brought into full light.
Given this, one has to question whether the light penalty imposed against Manziel–who reportedly accepted no money to pen his name on thousands of pieces of merchandise to be sold by others–was an NCAA maneuver to pad itself against future personality rights lawsuits. While this isn’t a perfect argument, it is an argument that makes far more sense than a young man taking time out of a South Beach vacation to sign thousands of pieces of merchandise for free.