Johnny Manziel And The NCAA Can Both Be Wrong

Listening to all the commentary regarding the Johnny Manziel situation, there seems to be only two possible opinions.  You’re either pro-Manziel and think his behavior is justified because the NCAA rules are out of date, or you’re anti-Manziel and think he’s just another spoiled rich kid who thinks the rules don’t apply to him.  Let me just go ahead and reject that false choice right now.  Johnny Manziel and the NCAA can both be wrong.

I’ll get into what exactly I mean by that, but first let’s pan out and look at this in a broader context.  Why must there be an either/or here?  I enjoy following politics.  However I do not appreciate how our culture, media and general discourse attempt to paint everyone and every issue into a tidy box of two completely opposite viewpoints.  You’re either soft on the border or you’re building an electric fence.  Clinging to guns or anti-2nd Amendment.  Conservative or Liberal.  I believe these are simplistic labels which don’t allow people to truly say and do what they believe, which may be something totally different.

You see the same type of commentary circling around the Johnny Manziel situation; it sounds like it’s coming right out of the 9pm hour on Fox and MSNBC.  One group says this case just illustrates yet again how the NCAA (and in particular its amateurism rules) is out of date and needs a major overhaul.  They essentially give Mr. Manziel a pass because the rules he allegedly violated are so out of touch.  The other group believes Mr. Manziel broke a cardinal rule in college athletics by taking extra benefits, and should never play college football again.  Anyone sympathetic to Mr. Manziel is nothing more than a soft enabler.  Anyone critical of Mr. Manziel is out of touch, uncool and okay with schools making obscene money on the backs of broke college students.  The pro-Manziel crowd attacks the anti-Manziel crowd and vice-versa.  There are (or seem to be) no other opinions or perspectives.

Allow me to submit an alternative to this madness.  Johnny Manziel and the NCAA can both be wrong.  (Gasp!) What’s that you say? There’s another side?  It’s called reality; and rarely are there just two sides to an issue.  I would agree the NCAA’s amateurism rules are in drastic need of an overhaul.  They are outdated and not reflective of what major Division I athletics, and in particular football, are today.  A serious conversation must be had about whether the current compensation system (a scholarship that doesn’t cover the full cost of attendance) is appropriate in today’s big-time college athletics.  So that must make me pro-Manziel, right?  Not quite.

Assuming the allegations being reported about Mr. Manziel taking money for signing autographs are true, he was wrong to do so.  Whether or not the rules are outdated and/or unfair, he knew (or should have known) them and was required to abide by them.  Nobody forced him to play college football; he made the choice to do so and should be made to play by the rules.

We all know that stretch of road in our home towns that has a posted speed limit sign of 45 MPH when it could easily be 60 MPH.  Should we be able to go 60 MPH?  Yes.  Can we?  No.  That’s what we have here.  An unrealistic speed limit (student-athletes’ compensation capped at the value of a scholarship) with a driver (Mr. Manziel) who, if the allegations are true, simply doesn’t care.  You don’t get to do that and get away with it.  So now I’m anti-Manziel.

Or perhaps there are more than two possible opinions here.  I sure hope so; sports conversation is too good to go the way of politics.




  1. Randy Biggs says:

    I’m in complete agreement about the possibility that both are wrong. Very good thoughts. Personally, I’m not sure that the NCAA rules need an overhaul, but a tweak is certainly needed. I don’t like the idea of just doling out cash; nor do I like the idea that superstars should earn a cut from the school’s revenue (think about the rock star researchers in the PAC 12 that generate way more revenue for the universities than athletics ever did… no one is arguing for graduate assistants to keep hundreds of thousands in grant money as compensation for their breakthroughs). I think, though, that allowing athletes to take jobs that would be reviewed for legitimacy is a good start and something that could be reasonably instated.


    • Daniel Hare says:


      Thanks for commenting! I like the comparison to graduate assistants; it’s not perfect but probably as close a comparable as there is. While you’re right nobody is arguing they should keep more of the money they bring in, there is also not a governing body artificially capping what they can earn. Instead, graduate assistants in public universities (and depending on the makeup of the National Labor Relations Board private universities) are able to unionize and collectively bargain for their wages and benefits. I think a great case can be made that student-athletes are similarly situated and deserve the same treatment.


  2. Brandon says:

    one quick comment:
    While I agree with your stance on this issue, I do take issue with those who believe that student athletes currently only receive a scholarship as compensation for their participation in athletics.
    I believe that the opportunity student-athletes are given by their schools (and the NCAA) to build their personal brand (i.e. television exposure) and develop into a more complete athlete (access to medical care, strength and conditioning staff, etc) must also be factored in as part of their compensation.
    Yes, it can be argued that Johnny Manziel has made a lot of money for people other than himself during the past 12 months. But how much money does Johnny Manziel stand to make in the future because of the opportunities given to him by Texas A&M and the NCAA to showcase his talent when he’d have no other option to do so? Johnny Manziel would never be considered a NFL-caliber player if he wasn’t first an amateur student-athlete.

    • Daniel Hare says:


      Thanks for commenting! Certainly there are various views on the subject you raise. However, regardless of how one defines the current compensation and/or benefits a student-athlete receives, the fact remains there are NCAA rules which cap them. It is this cap which poses anti-trust questions and may ultimately prove to be illegal.


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