It’s almost impossible to work up much sympathy for Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel these days.
At best, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner appears to be a really spoiled brat. At worst, he could become a lying, conniving tax evader. Either way, he figures to receive some sort of NCAA suspension for apparently being paid to ink his signature to all matter of items that wound up on eBay.
And perhaps that’s the way it should be. A rule is a rule, even a questionable one. After all, what would happen if every backup fullback, reserve softball third baseman or walk-on lacrosse player at an NCAA member school could make money selling his autograph? Or his jersey? Or the cleats she wore in the conference title game?
College athletes receiving money for something that’s pretty much exclusively tied to them? Why, the world as we know it would come to an end, though that doesn’t always seem like such a bad thing.
But Tuesday afternoon, in yet another display of why he’s the brightest, wittiest knife in ESPN’s overstuffed drawer of analysts and talking heads, Jay Bilas went Tweeting some very interesting photographs. VERY, VERY interesting.
Per Bilas’s instructions, were you to go to www.ShopNCAAsports.com, then type “Manziel” in the upper right search box, then hit “enter,” you would come across four versions of Johnny Football’s No. 2 jersey, including one style that sells for $64.95.
Bilas then produced similar results for quarterbacks AJ McCarron of Alabama, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, as well as South Carolina’s superstar defender Jadeveon Clowney.
If “hypocrisy” doesn’t rhyme with NCAA, it should.
After all, it’s the NCAA — as CBSsports.com’s Gary Parrish sagely pointed out Tuesday — that’s always insisting that “specific jerseys for sale aren’t connected to specific players.”
So how could this happen? Why has it been happening for years without players getting a single cent from such skullduggery? Two words: No names. Because you’ll never find the player’s name on any NCAA-licensed jersey, the seller gets away with it.
Is the NCAA a tremendous bastion of integrity or what?
But it doesn’t end there. By 4 p.m. EDT Tuesday, someone — wonder who? — removed the search window from the ShopNCAASports.com site. So if you go there today, you won’t be able to type in Manziel or McCarron or Clowney and find anything.
In fact, if you go to A&M’s jersey site, you won’t even find Manziel’s No. 2. (McCarron’s No. 10 was still available early Wednesday evening.) There were a few different No. 12 A&M designs available — that must have been some ingenious photoshop work — but no Manziel No. 2s.
(Oh, I forgot. He signed and sold those already)
Good thing Bilas’s tweets will live forever in cyberspace to provide proof that those $64.95 A&M No. 2s really did exist early Tuesday afternoon.
Not that Bilas stopped there. In his final tweet/rant/public service on this issue, he told his 542,000 Twitter followers that if they typed in “NCAA Executive Committee” in the search box they would find a photo of 15 clowns.
Yet while that attached clown photo was Bilas’s joke, this one series of tweets could have the NCAA crying the tears of a clown as it attempts to defend itself in a lawsuit brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon that seeks revenue generated by athletes’ likenesses on everything from jerseys to video games.
If the suit is allowed to become a class action suit involving both current and former athletes — a ruling is expected on that motion by October — the NCAA could be forced to pay millions or more in back revenue.
It might even have to pay Manziel.
Again, this isn’t to offer much support for Johnny Football, who seems intent on becoming Johnny Freefall. The NCAA may or may not be able to prove he took thousands of dollars to sign autographs, but if they can’t, the IRS probably can.
That doesn’t mean he couldn’t stonewall the NCAA through the season, report his 2013 ill-gotten gains to the IRS next April and leave Texas A&M holding the bag after he turns pro. At that point, the NCAA — given its own shaky ethics — might do well not to send its clowns.
Or as Manziel reportedly tells a dealer on a video that seems to show him with merchandize he autographed: “You never did a signing with me.”
Kind of like those No. 2 A&M jerseys were never on ShopNCAAsports.com. Hear no evil, see no evil. Business as usual on all fronts.
Email Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...