Sunday evening, it was reported by ESPN that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is the focus of an NCAA investigation surrounding whether or not he was compensated for applying his autograph to certain pieces of Aggie memorabilia. Two other reports, both by ESPN, have since surfaced. They quote two anonymous online memorabilia brokers as saying Manziel wanted payment for his signature. One said he was told by a Manziel representative that there would be no more free signings, and another said Manziel was compensated $7,500 for his autograph.
In response to these reports, many college football pundits and columnists have seized the opportunity to make the case that individual players should be entitled to profit off of their own likenesses and athletic identity while in college. Some are speculating that the Johnny Manziel situation could provide the proper circumstance for the NCAA to make changes to its policy.
Most prominently, ESPN basketball analyst and noted NCAA critic Jay Bilas made waves after he published the results of a search he did on NCAAShop.com. When he typed ‘Johnny Manziel’ into the search box, jerseys with the number ‘2’ appeared. The point was that the NCAA’s own website profits off of players’ likenesses but the individuals cannot.
The debate over whether college athletes should be able to capitalize on their own image is a necessary one. I have no problem with it and think there are fair arguments on both sides.
But what does that have to do with Johnny Manziel?
The NCAA’s regulations on amateurism and profiting may be outdated, but they’re the current rules. When Johnny Manziel signed a letter of intent to play football at Texas A&M, he was agreeing to play by these rules.
Should the rules change in the future, the situation would then be different. I have no problem with Manziel doing anything, as long as it is within the rules. But if it is proven that he willfully received compensation for his autograph, that is illegal. He should be disciplined accordingly.
While selling an autograph on memorabilia appears like it is a victimless situation, it’s not. For every athlete who sells his signature, there is another one who restrains himself and therefore forfeits his opportunity to profit. As long as the NCAA’s current regulations are in place, everyone should be held to the same standard in upholding them.
Thursday, the news broke that the Manziel family has hired Jim Darnell, a Texas attorney who is said to have experience in dealing with NCAA matters, to represent Johnny in any legal issues with the sport’s governing body. Darnell also predicted to USA Today that Manziel will play in the season-opener against Rice.
“I can’t say much,” Darnell told USA TODAY Sports, “other than we’re working through the process. He’s cooperating with the investigation. We think when all this comes out on the other end, he’ll be the starting quarterback for the Aggies against Rice.”
ESPN’s Paul Finebaum is not as certain. Finebaum, who’s ESPN radio show is scheduled to begin Monday, told ‘The Opening Drive’ on WJOX in Birmingham that he does not believe Manziel will take the field against Alabama on September 14th.
Finebaum: There is a sense that there will be more bad news for Johnny Manziel. I don't think he'll play against Alabama.
— Opening Drive (@openingdrive) August 9, 2013
Where will it go from here? We’ll have to wait and see.