From an Aug. 28 editorial in the Chicago Tribune:
If you’re a fan of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel – or just see him as a good investment opportunity – you can find everything you need on eBay. It offers hundreds of items signed by the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
As a rule, they aren’t cheap. The asking price on one of the cheaper items, a photo, is $67; for a helmet co-signed by the Aggies’ only other Heisman winner, you may pay nearly $3,000. What the owners of the souvenirs have in common is that they are free to make money off them. But Johnny Football is not.
He was under investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association following reports that he accepted $7,500 to sign 300 helmets in January. That sounds like a lot of money until you consider that Texas A&M reaped $37 million in free publicity from him last season, which enabled the school to undertake a lavish $450 million stadium renovation. The 11-2 record Manziel helped the Aggies achieve also earned his coach a raise, from $2 million a year to $3.1 million.
The NCAA has strict rules to prevent students from reaping any financial rewards for their athletic exploits. They can get free tuition, room and board, but that’s about it. Some universities have proposed granting a stipend of $2,000 a year to cover living expenses, to no avail.
Manziel wasn’t found guilty of accepting payment for his autographs, but he was suspended for one half of his team’s first game after signing autographs that clearly might be sold.
Manziel clearly benefits from his association with a major college football program that affords him the chance to showcase his talents for NFL teams that may employ him in the future. But there is still something cockeyed about a system that punishes him for making money off of honest work that will inevitably generate income for someone.
Many of the NCAA’s critics would prefer that big-time programs dispense with the pretense that these kids are students first and simply pay them to suit up for Gridiron U. Or these educational institutions could stop fielding varsity teams entirely, focusing on academics instead.
But the NCAA can improve things without taking such radical steps. It could allow star players to accept fees for autographs, endorsements or appearances, with the money going into trust funds to be tapped after they’ve used up their eligibility. The athletes could even be required to share the proceeds with their schools or their conferences.
Maybe this episode will finally force the NCAA and its member schools to give athletes a share of all the money they generate. In that case, Johnny Football may earn a new nickname: Johnny Paycheck.
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