During the last year, we’ve learned that Johnathan Manziel has no boundaries. He takes what he wants. Nick Saban will testify as much. Johnny Football left Tuscaloosa with Saban’s pride in his back pocket. The kid considers nothing out of reach, be it a first-down marker, a Heisman, the bling of wealth and fame, a University of Texas frat party, maybe even a price for his signature. He’s come so far, so fast expressly because there’s no governor on his talent and desire. It was the way he was raised.
Which begs the question: What’s college football’s excuse?
If the NCAA finds Manziel guilty of selling his autograph for five figures — a number growing with each ESPN report — he could be ruled ineligible this fall. Forget a lifetime ban. He wasn’t coming back to Texas A&M in 2014 if College Station named him grand marshal.
Of course, there’s the distinct possibility that he walks, too. Unless one of these “brokers” is willing to talk to NCAA gumshoes, it may only serve as interesting reading.
Whatever happens to the face of college football — I make it 50-50 that he plays another down at A&M — this much is sure:
Kevin Sumlin will make his millions.
A&M will make its millions.
The NCAA will make its millions.
And no one will question a dime of it.
In the eyes of the NCAA, it’s fine for a kid to practice 20 hours a week and countless others behind the scenes, risking his mental and physical health in the process with no guarantee that his scholarship will even be re-upped for another year, all while trying to retain his status as a “student-athlete.” And if a kid turns out to be such a talent that it makes his school and coaches a fortune, so much the better.
Just as long as he doesn’t try to cash in himself.
Manziel doesn’t need the money, not that that’s ever stopped anyone. As an ESPN story recently revealed, the Manziels don’t want for much. Johnny drives a Mercedes. Vacations at Pebble Beach. A child of privilege, Johnny is like a lot of kids I know. They’ve been given everything they wanted and not enough of what they need.
The only difference is that none of them could play football like Johnny.
Until recently, it’s been my position that more is expected of a Heisman winner. Once he earned that distinction, even as a freshman, Johnny couldn’t simply tweet whatever he wanted and hide behind the excuse that he’s just a kid being a kid. But, hey, that’s me. I come from a place where we learned early on that to whom much has been given, much will be required.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a credo for many of today’s youth. And whose fault is that?
Pardon the parenting lesson, but here’s my take on children, having survived four: As soon as they figure out they’re in charge, all is lost.
If you read Wright Thompson’s ESPN story from a round of golf and dinner with the Manziels, you got a pretty clear picture of the family dynamics. Johnny’s father, Paul, says he doesn’t like to play golf with his son because of Johnny’s temper. And it’s not just a golf course’s aggravations that worry the father. He says he’s afraid Johnny’s going to blow one day, and when he does, it’ll be bad. He says it’ll all be on him because “if I give up on him, who’s gonna take over? The school sure the hell isn’t gonna do it.”
For the record: Yes, the responsibility of their only son falls on the Manziels. They signed up 20 years ago. If you’ve got any conscience at all, it’s a lifetime contract.
But Paul Manziel has a point of sorts. A&M’s job is to educate and coach their son and make sure nothing bad happens to him. Or at least that’s all it once was. I can still hear Bill Yeoman calling an athletic scholarship “three hots and a cot.” It was a different time. Locker rooms were cramped, stadiums bleak. Weight rooms were dark, dank places braved by the bold. Indoor practice facilities? If David McWilliams wanted to work his players on grass, he used the field across the street from Memorial Stadium, where he first had to scare off Texas students flipping Frisbees.
If you aren’t building a new wing on the weight room or adding another layer of luxury suites these days, you aren’t keeping up. Same with coaches’ salaries. Remember the uproar when Jackie Sherrill got $267,000 at A&M? His salary couldn’t keep Mack Brown in cowboy boots.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with all this excess, I suppose, unless it’s this: What happens when enough of these kids figure out that, in effect, they’re the ones generating the record revenue streams, not coaches or athletic directors or presidents? Ed O’Bannon, the former UCLA basketball star, has already triggered a lawsuit to recoup some of the millions the NCAA makes off players’ likenesses on video games and apparel. What happens when enough kids raised me-first demand that they get what’s coming to them, too? What happens when they realize they’re in charge?
Johnny Football may be long gone by then. Still, every cause has its patron saint.