Johnny Manziel could provide a test case regarding the NCAA's financial inequities. (Patric Schneider/AP)
There's one thing we know for sure: If Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel took money for the act of signing his name, as he is accused of doing, he has run afoul of the NCAA's rules. However, the matter of whether Manziel and other "student-athletes" should be able to profit from their own names and likenesses, when the NCAA makes millions of dollars off them without let or hindrance, brings up a far more complicated question. Many would say that if there are people who want a player's autograph or jersey, and are willing to pay for it, those players have every right to the lion's share of the profits. Others will point to the model of amateurism, and the fact that players such as Manziel get a free education, as reasons for keeping things the way they are.
Two prominent NFL players have spoken out on the subject of late, and they're both on the side that believes players at any level should be able to benefit in tangible ways from the merchandising model that, like it or not, is a forceful and major part of the NCAA's current paradigm.
Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant -- who was suspended for the season after three games in 2009 while playing for Oklahoma State for accepting a dinner with Deion Sanders and lying about it when the NCAA came after him -- told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that while he would be "mad" at Manziel if he broke NCAA rules, there's no practical reason that Manziel shouldn't get a cut of that obvious gravy train.
MANDEL: Autograph scandal will add fuel to fire of Manziel's critics
“[Manziel] should be able to sign as many autographs and make as much money as he wants because it’s his name,” Bryant said on Wednesday. “I feel like he’s the one who created it. He should be able to do [with it] whatever he feels as long as it’s legal, and I don’t think there’s anything illegal about signing a picture of yourself and making money off it. Shoot, the NCAA is making money off of it when they’re selling those No. 2 shirts. Why can’t he make a little bit of money off of it?”
Bryant also spoke to the fact that often, players don't know what's against NCAA rules and what isn't. That's not a leadpipe-lock excuse, but one imagines that when Tiger Woods had lunch with Arnold Palmer while Woods was at Stanford, and Palmer paid for lunch, Woods didn't think he was about to get the hammer. But the NCAA said that for Woods to keep his eligibility, he would have to send Palmer a check for $25.
As you could imagine, Woods told the NCAA where to go, and he's done fairly well for himself since then.
Back to Bryant, who never imagined that he was violating the rules until he got some hard questions, freaked out, and did something he should not have done.
“I did lie,” Bryant said. “I came back and I told the truth, and they suspended me indefinitely. The way the [NCAA investigator] was talking to me was like I did something wrong. I didn’t know it was OK for me to go to someone’s house …so I got scared and I lied. I feel like if anybody else was in my position, they probably would have done the same.”
On Thursday, Minnesota Vikings running back and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson added his name to the list of those who believe that the current system doesn't make a lot of sense.
Ross Jones of FOXSports.com asked Peterson whether Manziel should be able to profit. "I think so," Peterson replied. "The universities are making a lot of money off of student-athletes in general. So, yeah, he should be able to make money. I think so. They make millions off of these college athletes and they made millions off of the guys I played with as well. Yeah, he should be getting paid.”
Peterson lit it up for the Oklahoma Sooners from 2004 through 2006, and the man that may have benefitted most from that was his head coach, Bob Stoops. Stoops recently agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in Norman through the year 2020, or give him a killer buyout if not. Of course, Stoops doesn't think his players should be paid ... at all.
“I tell my guys all the time,” Stoops told Matt Hayes of the Sporting News in April, “you’re not the first one to spend a hungry Sunday without any money.”
ROSENBERG: NCAA rules are unfair, but Manziel not the one to challenge them
As to the seeming financial inequity? Poppycock, said the man who hasn't seen a hungry Sunday in a very long time -- he currently makes more than $4 million per year.
“You know what school would cost here for non-state guy? Over $200,000 for room, board and everything else. That’s a lot of money. Ask the kids who have to pay it back over 10-15 years with student loans. You get room and board, and we’ll give you the best nutritionist, the best strength coach to develop you, the best tutors to help you academically, and coaches to teach you and help you develop. How much do you think it would cost to hire a personal trainer and tutor for 4-5 years?
“I don’t get why people say these guys don’t get paid. It’s simple, they are paid quite often, quite a bit and quite handsomely.”
Yes, but those scholarships that coaches are so fond of touting when asked about this subject are also revocable after every season, and there's no buyout for the kids. Stoops does have a point, however myopic it may be, when it comes to those college athletes who don't drive jersey sales and may not directly affect won-loss records that lead to multi-million-dollar contracts for coaches. But for those players who drive the money into the coffers of the NCAA with their names, they should see a serious share of the profits. To deny them that is to hang on to an amateurism model that was out of date when Stoops was a safety at Iowa in the 1970s.