Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Big Story

So Johnny Manziel is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, a 20-year-old at a gigantic football school in the biggest football school in the country and apparently likes to go out and have fun?

This is news?

Uh, no. It isn't.

Manziel is a bit immature. He went from "nobody ever heard of him redshirt freshman at Texas A&M" to "Johnny Football" and then the Heisman in a flash. As a result, fame - if not fortune - was his prize.

Everywhere he went, people wanted to be around him. When you're 20 and the biggest football star in college, life is good. So he's taken advantage of it.

Yesterday was SEC football media day, and apparently 1,200 media members crowded around Manziel breathlessly, to hear his every word.

TigerBlog has a news flash for them.

Manziel isn't a big story. It'd be a bigger story if he didn't react at least some of the way he has.

There are three big stories in college athletics right now. One is the trend of earlier and earlier recruiting. Another is conference realignment.

The third, and by a wide, wide margin, is the lawsuit originally brought by Ed O'Bannon against the NCAA for using his likeness without his approval.

This issue came up yesterday in another story, one that didn't get 1/1,000th of the attention that Manziel did for leaving the Peyton Manning camp.

And by the way, if you ever need someone to be a stand-up, class act, it appears that Peyton Manning is the one, especially when he could have tossed Manziel completely under the bus.

Anyway, the crux of the issue is that the NCAA may be on the hook for billions of dollars if the lawsuit goes for O'Bannon. It has the potential to completely change the way the NCAA operates and the way college athletics are administered.

Notice that TB said fame, but not fortune, was his prize.

In the world of the NCAA rulebook, Johnny Manziel cannot cash in on what otherwise would be millions of dollars worth of endorsements, because to do so would mean the end of his college eligibility.

Imagine a world where that wasn't the case.

Imagine a world where college athletes retain the rights to their own likenesses and their own ability to generate revenue. That's what's at stake in the O'Bannon case.

Of course it is a grind-it-out-dull-as-dirt legal proceeding, one with very complex issues, so it gets very little play.

The results could be dramatic.

Big-time college football and men's basketball are huge businesses. They generate millions for these schools. Coaches get paid enormous salaries. Alumni giving is often tied to athletic success.

The athletes? They get not one cent, at least not legally, despite the fact that they are the reason all that money is pouring in.

Think about it. Is there another arena in society where that is the case? The ones who bring in the money have no legal right to any of it?

You could make the case that those athletes are getting paid in scholarships and room and board and all, and that's actually a pretty good point. Except that in the case of players like Manziel, it's not even close to equitable.

And a bigger issue is that these athletes don't have any recourse other than to play by the NCAAs rules, which date back a long way.

On the other hand, what exactly is the NCAA - meaning its member schools - supposed to do if it has to all of the sudden start paying out money? Should every athlete be paid? Only those whose sports turn profits? What about Title IX?

On a much simpler level, anyone could go into the bookstore and buy a No. 22 Princeton lacrosse jersey. Should Tom Schreiber get compensated for that? 

The big story yesterday wasn't Manziel at SEC media day. It was that the NCAA announced it was not renewing its contract with EA Sports for its video games. The story is filled with interesting quotes, including these:
"We are confident in our legal position regarding the use of our trademarks in video games," the NCAA said. "But given the current business climate and costs of litigation, we determined participating in this game is not in the best interests of the NCAA.
"The NCAA has never licensed the use of current student-athlete names, images or likenesses to EA. The NCAA has no involvement in licenses between EA and former student-athletes."

There is a lot riding on the outcome of the O'Bannon case. It might not be sexy, like a partying Heisman Trophy winner who appears to constantly be living it up.

But it is game-changing.

All of college sports will be affected by the outcome.

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