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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Time to re-examine college amateurism?

  • The latest scandal involving Texas A & M quarterback Johnny Manziel certainly makes one wonder whether major changes need to be forthcoming in NCAA rules.
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  • The latest scandal involving Texas A & M quarterback Johnny Manziel certainly makes one wonder whether major changes need to be forthcoming in NCAA rules.
    Manziel, AKA “Johnny Football”, the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy, is currently under investigation for allegedly selling his autograph at a memorabilia show in Miami last January. That action, if true (and who doubts that it is), would be a clear violation of NCAA rules. By profiting off his name, Manziel would have forfeited his amateur status, making him ineligible to compete in the NCAA.
    First off, let me go on record as saying I’m not a big fan of Johnny Manziel. As a person, I think he leaves a lot to be desired. Among the dubious incidents Manziel has been involved in just since receiving the Heisman last year: Getting kicked out of a frat party at UT; going to jail briefly for carrying a fake ID; getting dismissed as an instructor at the Manning Passing Academy for missing meetings; various cases of partying and celebrity-hanging-with too numerous to mention.
    So Manziel is not, in my opinion, the poster child for why NCAA rules should be changed.  It’s not as though Manziel needed the money from the autograph sales. From all reports his family is wealthy, reeking of Texas oil money. Perhaps his allowance from his family does not include money for casino gambling and hobnobbing with LeBron James— although given his seeming sense of, shall we say “entitlement” (so as not to have to call him “spoiled”), it appears as though he was never denied very much growing up.
    His excuse for his behavior— that he is 20 years old and a college student and not hurting anybody— rings hollow. Not all 20-year-old college student-athletes act the way he does. What about one of the student-athletes he beat out for the Heisman Trophy, K-State’s Collin Klein? I don’t remember any untoward stories surfacing about Klein acting like an idiot.
    So anyway, even if Johnny Manziel is not the sympathetic character I would like to be able to get behind and say, “See, the rules need to be changed for guys like Johnny’s sake”, the fact remains that the Manziel case does give one pause. It makes one wonder if the NCAA does need to change its rules governing the way players are allowed to be treated.
    Critics of the current NCAA system call it hypocritical. They point out that everyone is allowed to profit off of college athletes except the athletes themselves. Colleges and universities profit from ticket sales and from selling jersey and paraphernalia containing players’ names and images. Video game manufacturers profit from selling players’ profiles in their game simulations. TV stations make money using players’ faces in promotional materials.
    Page 2 of 3 - Make no mistake, there is big money to be made in major college athletics. Texas A & M took in $119 million in athletic revenue last year. The SEC raked in a combined $1.2 BILLION. It’s a fact that football and men’s basketball are the cash cows that enable a university’s less-visible sports to continue to exist. Sad to say, the women’s lacrosse team simply doesn’t support itself financially.
    Supporters of the status quo argue that it is enough that an athlete gets a college education in return for his participation. The problem with that is, many of them don’t WANT a college education. They are only in college to pursue their professional dream.  How many college basketball players are going to be one-and-done before something is done to change that system?
    My own preference would be that collegiate athletics get back to the way it used to be, or was intended to be. Amateurs competing for the glory of their school, Knute Rockne, rah-rah, boolah-boolah, all that old-fashioned stuff.
    But I know that’s never going to happen. Why? Because, just like the reason pro athletes juice, we fans are to blame because we have lost our perspective.  We have made college athletics too important in our lives. Alumni associations have too much money. There’s too much fun to be had tailgating at our favorite team’s stadium.
    If college sports were truly “cleaned up”, the first people to complain would be the fans. If college teams consisted only of players who were there mainly to get an education, they would very quickly find themselves playing to virtually empty stadiums.
    College sports fans want their teams to win, and they don’t much care how they do it. This is, of course, a generalization, but I think it is for the most part true.  Do rabid college football fans really care if their players go to class, as long as the team wins on Saturday?
    For the sake of argument, let’s say I’m right. So how do we reconcile the “win-at-all-costs” mentality with college sports’ traditional amateurism? I would love to be able to just say “let’s clean up college sports until it’s squeaky clean”, but, realistically, hasn’t that ship sailed? Professionalism has ingrained itself so deeply into MAJOR college MAJOR sports that I don’t think you can excise the cancer without killing the patient.
    So here’s my solution: For Division 1 football and men’s basketball, let’s just divorce them from any kind of regulation. Abandon any pretense that it is amateur athletics. College football and men’s basketball are, in essence, the “minor leagues” for professional football and basketball anyway. MLB has a viable minor league system, but NFL and NBA do not. Colleges are the NFL and NBA’s minor leagues.
    Page 3 of 3 - Let’s just acknowledge that, and let colleges field whatever team they want, however they want, in order to entertain their fans. Can’t a college raise money by, say, throwing a music concert? How is this any different? The college recruits whoever it can, however it can, pays them—divides the profits— however they want. Athletes don’t have to go to class, they’re just employees. They CAN go to class if they want, they just don’t have to.
    Fans show up on Saturday, tailgate, cheer for their team, it’s all good. The college takes the profits from the football/men’s basketball team and supports the academic programs and the less-visible athletic programs…It’s a win-win!
    D1 would basically be professional  teams that are affiliated with colleges for the purpose of making money for the college. I’m mainly thinking football and men’s basketball, but if a college wants to run a professional, say, archery team, they can.
    In my visionary scheme,  all other college sports WOULD be cleaned up until they’re squeaky clean. I don’t think there’s nearly as much filth in any of them as there is in D1 football and basketball, so it could be done.
    If a team is competing at the “collegiate” level (non-D1) and is caught violating the standards of amateurism, it immediately becomes Division 1 in perpetuity.
    This proposal would have three benefits: (1) Supporters of major colleges’ major sports—say SEC football, Big 12 basketball, whatever—would still be able to get their jollies attending ‘big games’ (2) Universities’ academic and less-visible athletic programs would continue to receive financial support, and (3) the rest of college athletics would be easier to keep clean.
    If Johnny Manziel’s case gets us to re-examine the entire structure  of college sports, maybe he will have served some  purpose other than to just be an annoying distraction.

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