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Column: So long, NCAA

The "student athlete" concept is dated — Johnny Manziel agrees

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 21:02

 

I've long been tired of the “student-athlete” moniker and the notions it implies. So has Johnny Manziel, apparently, because it took him a month to permanently compromise the idea.

 His on-field play is as scintillating as it comes, but who could have predicted the business acumen and savvy Manziel would flash this offseason? Don’t be fooled by the Twitter feed stuffed with Mardi Gras beads, talk of “haters” and celebrity photos —Manziel and his circle know what they’re doing.

In comments made at the acceptance dinner for his Davey O’Brien Award, Manziel confirmed something A&M fans have taken for granted for some time: the quarterback is taking an online-only course load. The joke that athletes don’t actually go to class is a longstanding one, but now it’s reality. The athlete with the highest profile in the nation — the one who brought a dash of youthful, maroon brashness to the fraternity of Heisman winners — doesn’t attend classes on A&M soil. How else could he continue his frenetic pace of public appearances? Who hasn’t he met?

Don’t overlook the significance of this announcement. At surface level, the question has to be asked whether it is even possible to graduate with a business degree taking only online courses. Doesn’t this cement the idea that he’ll bounce after another year in Aggieland for the NFL? Digging deeper, this represents an about-face in the way we look at college athletes. He’s not a student-athlete because he’s only a student in the loosest possible sense.

He hasn’t stopped there. Last week, Manziel’s corporation (JMAN2 Enterprises — not making this up) filed suit against a man who sold “Keep Calm and Johnny Football” shirts in violation of Manziel’s 2012 licensing of the nickname. The result of the lawsuit isn’t the important part. Manziel can’t directly profit on his name and accomplishments (even while the NCAA and A&M make millions on the No. 2 jersey and the quarterback who wears it), but the NCAA informed A&M that “a student-athlete can keep financial earnings as a result of a legal action.”

If he wins this suit and the ones that could follow, the money is his own.

In the past month, Manziel has peeled the skin off the NCAA’s bureaucratic nonsense and opened a loophole to (legally) make a profit off his own name and (legally) exempt himself from attending class. He’s not a student anymore, and he’s not an amateur. He’s an athlete. And why shouldn’t he be?

Fans are peddled artificial constructions every day, and the ability to sift through them is crucial for this discussion. We’ll start with Manziel himself. Johnny Football — the most down-South American nickname that has ever been and will ever be — is “Jonathon Manziel of Kerrville, Texas,” as he called himself in his first-ever addressing of the media, because he wants to be. Kerrville kids that want to remain Kerrville kids don’t have things like “JMAN2 Enterprises” attached to their names.

His small-town image is as much a construction as the “Heismanziel” marketing campaign that launched him into the public, which is as much a construction as the NCAA’s glorification of amateurism. Athletes have a shelf life. They don’t last long. The average NFL career, according to the Player’s Association, is a shade over three years. Elite athleticism is a marketable skill, and the NCAA knows it, which is why it cashes in on these skills for millions every year. The players are expected to be content with a scholarship for a degree many of them won’t stay around long enough to see. Team spirit, loyalty — when will we stop forcing these buzz words on eighteen-year-olds? The only amateur competition that can hold up in a comparison to its professional counterpart is SEC football. And even in that case, the product is so similar in fanfare and monetary exchange that squeezing SEC football (with Manziel as the face) into a one-size-fits-all lens of viewing athlete compensation is ridiculous. A third-party study found that Manziel’s Heisman win generated $37 million in media impressions (read: free, valuable advertising). How much did Manziel see? Speculative ticket pricing has Alabama’s Sept. 14 trip to College Station in the thousands of dollars per seat. What’s Manziel’s cut?

The student-athlete moniker is an anachronistic, almost-funny joke. Haven’t we known it all along? Apparently, all we needed was an athlete with a little free time to topple the NCAA’s ideas of “student” and “amateur.” His online-only schedule must have bought him more time than anyone imagined, because somewhere between Duck Dynasty meet-and-greets, Wale concerts and the NBA All-Star Game, Manziel managed to undermine everything on which college football’s governing body stood.

 

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