A lot of people have been asking for my opinion on Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who in January allegedly signed hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia for a "five-figure" fee. This a huge NCAA no-no.
My overall opinion is that the shame of this whole situation does not lie in one particular place. It lies in several places:
1. Manziel. Here's a kid who by all accounts didn't need the money; his family provides for him easily. Aside from being disrespectful to his school and the NCAA, Manziel was very short-sighted.
There's a very consistent market for Heisman Trophy winner collectibles. Without exaggeration, I'd say that every Heisman Trophy winner can earn at least $100,000 once they leave school. That's built-in. That club is that exclusive.
But now Manziel has created market confusion around his autograph; no one knows for sure how many items he's signed, or what kind of items he's signed. He's devalued his own signature. And on account of that fact and his behavior in general, any reputable collectibles company like Steiner Sports would think twice about committing to him. So for a few thousand dollars, Manziel has potentially jeopardized tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in future earnings.
You ever hear the expression "Sometimes you need to jump over a five-dollar bill to get to a twenty?"
Neither has Johnny Manziel.
2. Drew Tieman, the dealer who had Manziel sign these items. He knows better than to take advantage of a kid like Manziel. (Yes, he's a kid. He's 20!)
Every industry has people like Tieman - the bottom-feeders who take advantage of people to make a quick buck. And in every industry, these kinds of people drag everyone else down with them. The memorabilia market is worse off for Johnny Manziel right now, not better. Considering how exciting a player he is, that's a frightening thing to say.
3. The NCAA. A D-I college football team can make upwards of $50 million in a good year. This is not chump change. Players are all too aware of the money their schools and the NCAA make off them. Their argument - "The school's making money off me, why can't I make money off me?" - does make sense. Yes, they get scholarships, but they don't have enough non-sports time to be normal students, to learn all that non-athletes learn. They clearly deserve something extra, but the NCAA has long pretended this isn't a problem. Get real, NCAA. Shame on the NCAA for never evolving to address this.
Personally, I think all D-I football and basketball players (male and female) should receive a stipend. This wouldn't solve the problem. but at least it would help. At least then players couldn't claim they're getting nothing.
So what's the "take-away" here?
To me, there are two lessons.
Firstly, Manziel and Tieman are illustrations of what happens when you try to take short-cuts in life. The quick win is never worth the long-term loss. Think of Manziel next time you want to cut corners on something.
Secondly, the NCAA is an illustration of what happens when you pretend for too long that a problem doesn't exist. The NCAA may be "right" according to the letter of the law. But too many athletes have done what Manziel did for this to be fully their fault. The NCAA has to take more responsibility for these incidents than it ever has. Otherwise, they're going to keep happening. I guarantee it.
In other words, as I like to say, It's not worth being right if you can't get it right.