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Thoughts on the NCAA and Johnny Football

Unfair as it may be, it is looking like 2012 Heisman Trophy Johnny Manziel will face penalties for being compensated an undisclosed five-figure amount for signing sports memorabilia to be sold to the public. The signing in question took place during the BCS National Championship game in Miami this past January. Manziel did two days worth of signing reportedly, as witnesses saw him signing the items, though no witnesses saw any monetary exchange for his work. 

If proven to be true is clear Manziel is in clear violation of NCAA Bylaw, which is as follows:

Subsequent to becoming a student-athlete, an individual shall not be eligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if the individual: 
a. Accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind, or 
b. Receives remuneration for endorsing a commercial product or service through the individual's use of such product or service.
As a Division 1 athlete I can confirm that compliance officials teach and remind you that promoting a product using your likeness and being compensated for it is a violation of NCAA bylaws, and that you could lose eligibility by doing so. If Texas A&M failed to teach the players this then they have failed Manziel, but I am doubtful that is the case. 

I understand as a wrestler, especially being just a "face in the crowd" wrestler, that I will never be in the situation Manziel was in when offered this undisclosed amount of money, so it's unfair for me to say I would have just turned it down. It's also unfair for us to say that since Manziel comes from a well disclosed oil fortune that it would be easy for him to turn it down because he comes from a financially sound situation. Manziel had to have known the rule though, and it is probably an unfair one, but he probably knew his risks. When looking into this situation it is clear we need some change, and though there are calls for change happening at the moment, I'm here to discuss ideas not so often pressed. 

Certain rules are already taking money out of Manziel's pocket, and it's not just NCAA amateurism. The NFL requires that players be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the draft and to play in the league. The NBA recently forced players to play a year in college, leading to the "one and done" players coming into college basketball each year. These rules allow the academic institution to further profit off "special" players like Manziel, while taking money out of the athlete's pocket by forcing him to be an amateur athlete again. Manziel, especially in last year's crop of quarterbacks, would have been selected in the NFL draft and potentially could have signed a contract worth millions dependent on his draft position, which would have likely been the first round.

Players like Manziel are thus passing on millions only to risk their body again in order to play and bring in millions of revenue for their institution. Texas A&M made $44.4 million in revenue from football last season, largely because of the record setting season of Johnny Football. Texas A&M will still bring in huge revenue after Manziel, but there is no doubting that they make more because of a prospect like him. I understand that the school also provides an education for many players that otherwise couldn't attend the school, as well as food, transportation, etc, but players like Manziel do not graze campus every year. Texas A&M will often "miss" on players, so it is fair for them to capitalize on the play and marketability of Manziel because they brought him there and gave him the opportunity  What is unfair for Manziel is that he should have been able to go play in the NFL, and not have to live in the world of an amateur athlete.

Manziel is risking his own body and millions of dollars by playing for Texas A&M this season (if he does so again). Sam Bradford, who injured his collarbone playing BYU in the opener after his Heisman campaign, was lucky to remain the #1 overall selection and not lose any money. A player like Jadeveon Clowney might not be that lucky. There is no doubt that Clowney would have been the first pick in last year's NFL Draft. What happens if Clowney has an injury like his teammate Marcus Lattimore? Clowney, living and playing in the United States of all places, is being subdued from making the money he should be making by playing in Kansas City this season. Clowney might be better off sitting out the season and holding private workouts to maintain his draft stock, but no competitive athlete would let down their teammates like that, so he'll play. It is unfair that he has to risk his future because the NFL deems he isn't ready, though all 32 teams would break the bank to grab him right now. If teams want to select a player and believe he is a fine investment for their franchise, then they should be able to make that choice.

The hilarity of this rule is that Amobi Okoye, who was selected by the Houston Texans tenth overall in 2007, was 19 years old at the time of his selection. Okoye was 19 years old when he was selected, as his exceptional academic ability allowed him to attend college starting at 15 years old (He chose Louisville over Harvard based on football). Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney are both 20 years old. The rule therefore doesn't have to do with physical maturity, so what's the point? You could say that college gives a prospect more mental maturity, but plenty of players don't do well even with the extra year of school. 

Why hold these guys back? If they choose to forgo the NFL the NCAA can enforce their amateurism bylaws, but allow the physically ready players to become professionals. Don't hold back the student athletes ready to make a living, it's unfair for their institution to make a fortune by holding the player back from making his own.