Brian Murphy: Hate the NCAA all you want, but not over Manziel

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comAugust 8, 2013 

Manziel Heisman Football

In this Dec. 8, 2012, file photo, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel poses with the Heisman Trophy in New York, after becoming the first freshman to win the award. With the NCAA reportedly investigating Manziel for possibly rules violations, could the Heisman Trophy winner be in danger of having the award stripped the way Reggie Bushís was after his NCAA troubles?

HENNY RAY ABRAMS — AP

If you want to take a stand against the NCAA's blatant hypocrisy on amateurism issues, I can pick a million better places to start than a hotel room in New Haven, Conn.

That's where an autograph broker says he paid Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel - the reigning Heisman Trophy winner - to sign hundreds of pieces of memorabilia, according to an ESPN report.

Manziel hasn't spoken to the media since the allegations were made public, so we don't know his intentions, but if the broker is to be believed, the electrifying quarterback wanted the money for new rims, not because he was protesting an unfair labor practice by the NCAA.

Still, legions of NCAA critics have seized on l'affaire Manziel to pummel the organization once again and call for reforms of all kinds to the way it does business - all while excusing Manziel because, hey, the NCAA sucks.

I’m not in that camp.

I think the NCAA’s rules can be terrible and believe that Manziel — if he did what he is alleged to have done — should be punished. Just because a rule is stupid doesn’t mean you have free rein to break it without consequence.

Some want to compare the NCAA rules to great moral injustices. Rules so morally wrong that not following them was the only way to change them and the system. I’ve seen Rosa Parks’ name bandied about recent days. And the American colonists’ refusal to pay British taxes. Let’s be clear: This is not even in the same stratosphere. And we should stop using those terms immediately.

If Manziel or any other college athlete wants to join the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA over the organization’s sale of athletes’ likenesses, go for it. You’ll find lots of support from here and most other places.

If Manziel or any other college athlete wants to practice civil disobedience over jersey sales or autograph rules, do it in public. Accept the consequences. Take a stand. I’ll be cheering you on.

If they want to stage a protest or a walkout or organize a picket line — this is, at its heart, a labor rights issue — so be it.

None of that happened in a hotel room in New Haven, where — if the broker’s videotape is to be believed — Manziel said he would deny ever having done the autographing if it were made public. That’s not civil disobedience. That’s not taking a stand. It’s looking for a way around the rules.

Yes, the NCAA’s hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

The organization’s website — despite claiming jersey numbers are not tied to certain individuals — allowed searches by name until ESPN’s Jay Bilas exposed it this week. Search for Johnny Manziel and, lo and behold, up popped a No. 2 Texas A&M jersey for sale.

Players can sign autograph memorabilia that schools can then sell, yet the athletes cannot sell those autographs on their own. Schools can sell game-worn jerseys, but players cannot sell jerseys they own or awards they earned.

The Manziel allegations have shone a brighter light on these unfair NCAA practices. They ought to be changed in a meaningful way. Nobody looks good in this case. Not the NCAA.

Not the autograph broker, who allegedly offered Manziel money for his signatures, secretly videotaped the encounter, offered to sell the video to ESPN (which refused to pay), allowed the network to see the video, ratted out Manziel and says he won’t cooperate with the NCAA. And certainly not Manziel, who knows selling your autograph is against NCAA rules and doesn’t particularly need the additional cash. He has put his entire career — and Texas A&M’s hopes for a successful season — in jeopardy with his reckless actions.

Real change is coming to the NCAA, which can no longer defend the way it does business in the wake of new television deals that generate hundreds of millions of dollars and is facing pressure from the biggest money-making conferences to alter its governance structure.

And real change is needed.

Just stop trying to tell everyone it’s needed because a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback might get punished for knowingly breaking the rules in the privacy of a hotel room for $7,500 in cash.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @murphsturph

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