Johnny Manziel is being investigated for writing his name on things. Cast aside the ESPN headlines and the connotations of the term "NCAA violation." The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has his eligibility and perhaps his entire career in jeopardy for writing his name on things.
Manziel is the latest college athlete to be probed for receiving improper benefits, after allegations charged him with signing memorabilia for a flat five-figure fee the weekend of the BCS National Championship earlier this year. Manziel was reportedly approached by autograph broker Drew Tieman on Jan. 6, shortly after the Texas A&M quarterback landed in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to attend the game the following night. Both sources that leaked the story witnessed Manziel signing merchandise, but never saw an actual exchange of money.
It could be weeks before the NCAA finds conclusive evidence. It could be years before Manziel emerges from scrutiny and consequence, that is, if he is found guilty of violating NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199 — accepting money for promoting or advertising the commercial sale of a product or service. And regardless of the outcome of this investigation, something's been made abundantly clear: student-athletes need to be paid.
Manziel is far from the first college athlete to be accused of illegally selling memorabilia. In 2010, Georgia receiver A.J. Green was suspended four games for selling a game-worn jersey for $1,000. A year later, Ohio State was struck with a one-year bowl ban when it was revealed that eight players took a total of $14,000 in cash and tattoos in exchange for jerseys, rings and other merchandise. Manziel is likely far from the last college athlete to do this as well.
The NCAA's restriction of payment to its student-athletes is an archaic and unfair rule, one that will hopefully be discussed more constructively in the wake of Manziel's investigation. For now, athletes get paid through scholarship — their annual salaries, including room, board and everything else considered, don't top six figures. Last season alone, Manziel's meteoric rise netted Texas A&M a cool $37 million. Johnny Football didn't see a dime of that money; in fact, he actually paid more than $3,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. The average market value of an NCAA football player lies around $200,000, and at Manziel's neighboring University of Texas, that value spikes to more than $500,000. Mind you, Johnny Manziel is not average.
But right now, Johnny Manziel may not get a chance to see the field in 2013. While third-party brokers face no legal consequences in situations like this, and can't be penalized by the NCAA with much austerity, players can have their college careers and football futures completely ruined.
Perhaps student-athletes can have their royalties stashed until they exhaust their NCAA eligibility or move on to the NFL. Perhaps there should be a cap on how much a player can make. Regardless, something has to give. Many of these student-athletes come from poor backgrounds and need to support their families. Johnny Manziel is not one of those student-athletes, but he's also not treated or marketed like a student. Why should he be paid like one?