By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Johnny Manziel should be preparing for a second consecutive run at a Heisman Trophy.
Manziel was a magical player for the Texas A&M Aggies last year as he led his team to an upset of Alabama that paved his way to winning college football’s top individual prize as a freshman.
It seemed clear that Archie Griffin was about to have company in the multiple-Heisman club. If he could win the famed trophy as a freshman, he could certainly continue to author a brilliant legacy in his sophomore and junior seasons.
But the offseason has been filled with tails of partying, drinking and a lack of discipline. Many of these stories are quite troubling, especially when you consider that Manziel’s priorities appear to be having as much fun as possible and figuring that the football would take care of itself.
Manziel should be a dominant college football player. That’s a long way from being a top pro prospect. I’m not saying that Manziel won’t get there some day, but his ability to tear apart college football defenses has nothing to do with his ability to do the same on the pro level.
Manziel’s latest foray appears to be in the memorabilia racket. Manziel was signing footballs, pictures, mini-helmets and other collectibles for profit, according to an ESPN Outside The Lines report.
That’s clearly against NCAA rules, and that organization is probing Manziel’s activity, with the network’s report as the jumping off point. This is going to be a tough one for Manziel to get around, since he was basically doing this out in the open and his signed items appeared on Internet auction sites, available to the highest bidder.
If the NCAA rules that Manziel accepted money and profited as a result of his status as a well-known college football player, they could suspend him for all or part of the 2013 season, or longer.
The NCAA is clear (Bylaw 188.8.131.52) in its rules that players can’t profit from promoting or advertising the sale of a product or service.
But the NCAA itself makes plenty of profit off its players and gives none of that cash to its players. This issue has been a point of contention between college athletes and the ruling institution for decades.
There is something inherently unfair about colleges, universities and administrative organizations making huge money off of athletes, while those individuals are not allowed to make a dime.
Former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon has brought suit against the NCAA over that issue, and six current college football players added their names to the suit last month. If the lawsuit gets certified by a federal court judge, it is likely to have a huge impact on the issue of college athletes receiving a share of revenues in the future.
Rules that limit the way college football players can earn money are likely to be impacted as well.
So, it may not have been Manziel’s intention to further the financial cause of college athletes, but that’s just what he may be doing.
The NCAA could throw the book at him, but the hypocrisy of profiting off the players is about to come to a head. The NCAA may want to avoid adding more fuel to the potential conflagration and stay quiet for as long as possible.
Manziel appears to be a distracted and potentially troubled young athlete who wanted to make some money and enjoy his perks. The rules don’t allow it, but he may be unwittingly helping the cause of college athletes for generations to come.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.