The big issue at play seems to be whether Johnny Manziel, or any college student athlete for that matter, retains the rights over his or her own intellectual property, in this case specifically referring to a signature on a piece of paper or various forms of memorabilia. It can also refer to his or her likeness for marketing purposes or video clips for promotional purposes. In other words, can the university or any other entity profit from the use of these items without directly compensating the student athlete? Many would argue that scholarship student athletes are already compensated in the form of an education, especially those that are provided full scholarships. Others would argue that the scholarship really only covers that athlete's participation in whatever sport they are involved in, and if they are special enough to be able to market their likeness, autograph, etc., then they ought to be able to do so for their own benefit.
But this can get complicated. If Johhny Manziel was just as talented as he is, but was playing for Toledo, would his likeness be as valuable? If Johhny Football doesn't make his coming out party at Alabama on national television, but against Ohio, isn't it reasonable to assume that most of us wouldn't have noticed, or at least not to the degree that we were made aware of it by the sports media? Therefore, doesn't Texas A&M and the SEC have a claim that they contributed to the value of his memorabilia, thus being able to benefit as well from it's sale or appeal? I want to be clear here that I haven't formulated a particular opinion. The issues and complexity in a case like this make it difficult to do so in the time frame that this been a national story.
But the second issue is probably more cut and dried. Whether one agrees with the rule or not, it's pretty clear that if, and once again the operative word is if, Johhny Manziel took payment while still eligible, he violated NCAA rules. These are rules all student athletes and for the most part, boosters and fans, are well aware of. How can anyone associated with college football not remember the Ohio State tattoo debacle of a couple of years ago? You can bet Jim Tressel (former Ohio State head football coach) remembers.
Manziel has put his own eligibility and that of his team for post season play and championship opportunities at risk. Last time I checked, it took at least 26 players (I'm counting the kickers here) to win a game. Johnny Football wouldn't get far without blockers or someone to throw the ball to. And unless I missed something, I haven't seen him line up on defense, a required part of the game if you're going to somehow stop the other team from scoring.
Do I agree with the NCAA rules? In many cases I don't. Do I think the NCAA can be arbitrary and inconsistent in its enforcement of the rules? In many cases I do. But just because you disagree with a rule doesn't give you the right to break it without risking penalties. Just because you think that 35 mile per hour speed limit is a little on the low side doesn't mean you can go 50 and expect to be let off the hook. If you feel strongly about the speed limit, show up at a city or county council meeting, write a letter to a councilman or otherwise utilize the process to change the speed limit. But if you choose to drive in that municipality, then you have to obey the laws or pay the price. For Johnny Manziel, that means playing by the rules if he's going to play NCAA football, especially at its highest levels.
The last complicating factor here is that unlike baseball, basketball, golf, tennis or soccer, Manziel has no other place to play except in the NCAA because the NFL won't accept players until they have been out of high school for three years. So until the rules are changed, he's just left to accept and abide by the current set of NCAA bylaws. Is it right? Is it fair? Could it be better? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but for now, it's what we have.
"Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" by Kevin Krest now available in E-book formats at Smashwords.com and Amazon.com.
Follow me on Twitter