The most recent NCAA versus a college football player in a legal matter is the Johnny Manziel, er, “Johnny Football,” taking cash for autographs fiasco. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Manziel, is basically being told by the NCAA that he can’t make a little coin off his signature. Johnny Football is a smart kid from a wealthy family, he already knew he couldn’t, and he doesn’t need the cash, but he did it anyway. Sort of makes you think this kid is intentionally dancing with the devil.
This legal tango involving the NCAA and an athlete, most specifically a college football player, which, let’s face it, is the only sport we really care about down here, has once again stirred up media coverage and talk of paying college football players. Which I don’t think is a good idea.
This seemingly annual debate always makes me think, however, about how ridiculous the entire process of college football as a conduit to the NFL really is. In fact, the process for an athlete that is not academically suited for higher learning to go play college football is so screwy it’s made colleges skirt the foolishness by basically cheating for decades in order to continue the charade.
Think about it, if you are a superior athlete on the football field, possessing all the attributes to progress to the NFL and a steady paycheck, then why do you have to go to college classes and make certain grades? It’s like telling an astronaut that before he can become a space cowboy he has to first learn to ballet dance – and, by the way, it’s going to take four years. You don’t have to be Baryshnikov, but you can’t have two left feet either.
Can’t you just imagine the tap dancing NASA would have done to ensure Neil Armstrong, the astronaut’s astronaut, pointed his toes and perfected his pliés. It’s ludicrous, just the thought. But that’s what we do to college football players and the universities, and we never blink an eye. It’s like fitting round pegs into square holes. It just doesn’t make sense.
But that’s just the way it is, right? That’s the sentiment I run into every time I talk about the absurdity of players being shoe-horned into colleges in order to make it to the next level of football – the National Football League and the millions of dollars that come with it.
So, here’s a solution. When a high school player makes the transition to college football he has the choice of a four-year scholarship or the cash equivalent. If the player selects the scholarship, it’s business as usual, but if he chooses the cash option then he never has to attend one single class. Just show up and play football. If you make it to the next level, good for you, if you don’t, enjoy the immediate financial windfall. But, let’s face it, $40,000 or whatever the ballpark figure may be, is nowhere near life changing.
And don’t feed me this importance of a college education. Everyone knows it’s important. In a perfect world everybody gets one and goes on to be corporate lawyers and millionaires. But it’s not a perfect world and that sentiment just isn’t always the case anymore. Besides, I don’t see anyone crying for the droves of baseball players who leave high school and go play minor league ball for years and have to call it quits before ever making the big leagues.
There is no scenario in which I think college football players should be paid a salary. I believe any attempt at such is just going to snowball into more and more money and corruption. If you start paying college athletes it won’t take long for bidding wars to produce the first on-campus millionaire. Then, how long before the money seeps down to the high school level? Just give the athlete and the college the option to let a kid play football without having to go to class or to chase a degree. What’s the harm in that?
As far as Manziel’s recent waltz with the NCAA over the $7,500 he allegedly collected putting his John Hancock on some 8×10 glossies, I say let him have it, and even more, open up further the financial avenues for other college players to profit from their hard work. Olympic athletes face some pretty stringent rules in order to keep their amateur status and therefore remain eligible to compete for the gold, yet they are still able to make some money off their name – thank you Wheaties cereal boxes.
So I say good for Johnny Football for stepping on the toes of the always lead-footed dance partner, the NCAA. If nothing else hopefully it will help put some money in these kids’ pockets by loosening the NCAA’s always too strict and too silly rules.