August 11, 2013

Johnny Football’s bandwagon has become too dizzy

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was a better story before he became the Justin Bieber of college football.

I don’t know where I jumped off the Johnny Football bandwagon, but I think it was somewhere between his parents trademarking his nickname and that national column that compared him to Oprah.

The ride was fun while it lasted, though. Before Johnny Manziel arrived in Aggieland, with ominous moving-to-the-SEC drums rumbling, the official Texas A&M team car may as well have been a hearse. Now, it seems, it’s a black Mercedes-Benz, paid for by his daddy, with new rims.

Ah, the rims. If you believe the latest story, Manziel needed money for the rims. So he allegedly broke one of the easiest NCAA rules to remember:

Thou shalt not sell your stuff.

And autographs are part of your stuff. Student-athletes can’t sell autographs. Or game tickets. Or bowl game jerseys.

They can’t do a lot of things, not because the NCAA doesn’t want them to have rims money, but because schools with big-money boosters would find a way to skirt the system.

I get that. And if you don’t, why do you even watch college football on Saturdays? The best football players in the country shouldn’t all be going to the schools with the shadiest boosters. There are rules in place that are designed to stymie that. And for the most part, the rules work.

No, I’m not naïve enough to think that college football programs aren’t still buying a player or two or three. I just think there are enough rules and compliance departments and iPhone photos out there to have cluttered the cheating superhighways to the point of more or less semi-leveling the blue-chip field.

You can’t pay student-athletes, because that would be tantamount to a competition tax for college athletic departments. The tax would only widen the gap between the haves and the have-not-so-muches.

True, some athletic departments seem destined to always have more pocket money than others, even before the Longhorn Network. But the income has to be accounted for. That’s what the NCAA rules are for.

If autographs were to become legal currency, how would you police it? Boosters would be buying recruits for “X” dollars in autographs each year.

Can’t sell autographs, therefore. And that should go for the schools as well. Texas A&M, though it was legal, was wrong to auction off helmets, posters and lunch dates with Johnny Football.

The NCAA ought to change that. No autographs, ever. That’s easier to enforce.

“Hey, Johnny, can I have your autograph?”

“No, it’s against the rules.”

End of controversy. They could call it the Johnny Manziel Rule.

Though he has lawyered-up impressively, Manziel is going to have a difficult time proving that he wasn’t compensated for his signature. It’s too easy to connect the dots here — sequentially numbered items, photos, witnesses?

The loophole that Cam Newton bullied through has been closed, so Manziel can’t say that the scheme and the cash were the brainchild of an associate — “Uncle Nate,” in this case, the kid who reportedly dropped out of school to handle Johnny’s bidness.

And that’s where I jumped off the Johnny Football bandwagon. He’s been trying to have it both ways, leading a rich-boy, front-row lifestyle as the Justin Bieber of college football, yet trying to play the “I’m just a 20-year-old college kid” card.

He’s far from that, though. Dallas golfer Jordan Spieth, Jurickson Profar, Bryce Harper — they all recently survived their 20th birthdays without embarrassing their family brand.

A&M has a right to be proud of its football renaissance, quarterbacked by Manziel. But there are a lot of Aggies, it appears, who just want Johnny to shut up and play football. He’s embarrassed them.

His latest mess will likely get him suspended for a game or two. His bleeding heart supporters will blame it on “the hypocrisy of the NCAA.” But he’s no more a legal test case than he is the shining face of college football.

I liked the old Johnny Football. This one seems like just a spoiled punk.

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