CREDIT: Associated Press
As a lawsuit from former and current college athletes continues to proceed through federal court, a crowd of NCAA officials, conference commissioners, and university presidents has warned of the dangers of rethinking the NCAA’s amateurism rules. Amid an investigation of his school’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, though, Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp isn’t among them.
Sharp is instead joining the crowd that says the NCAA and its member schools are hypocritical for making big money off of college athletes who don’t share in the compensation, and that nothing exemplifies that hypocrisy more than the NCAA’s investigation into allegations that A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel accepted payments for signing autographs. That investigation, Sharp said, shows that “something is wrong with the system,” the Dallas Morning News reports:
“I also think that there’s something, you know this is just me talking not as chancellor of the system, something is wrong with the system when we can make money off of our football players, the NCAA make money off of our football players and they can’t be treated like Olympic athletes,” Sharp said in an interview with NBC 5′s Chris Van Horne Thursday. [...]
“I suspect, courts or somebody or the NCAA is going to have to take a look at that and see whether or not they’re violating someone’s anti-trust deal. How can the NCAA, for instance, make money off of his jerseys and he can’t, you know, make two bucks off of signing something like that, like other athletes can who happen to be in the Olympics? That’s just my opinion.”
A cynic could argue that Sharp is only concerned about those rules now because they threaten his star quarterback, one who could this season lead A&M to its first national championship in more than 70 years and who, according to one study, was worth $37 million in free media exposure to Texas A&M in 2012. The cynic might also note that Sharp’s school still sells #2 jerseys on its web site and that its athletic department recently received a $20,000 donation from a booster who wanted to sit next to Manziel at dinner. An idealist could argue that Sharp understands exactly how much Manziel is worth to the university — and how much other athletes might be worth to other schools too — and is legitimately concerned that neither he nor his other athletes can share in the prosperity they create.
Either way, it’s significant. NCAA officials have warned that paying players would bring about the death of the system — Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany even said it would force his schools to relegate themselves to Division III, the lowest level of NCAA athletics (he later admitted he was bluffing). The arguments for allowing athletes to make money from the use of their names, images, and likenesses — even if only under the Olympic model Sharp proposed — has largely come from outside, from columnists and activists and former players like Ed O’Bannon, currently suing the NCAA, and Jay Bilas, now a college basketball commentator who regularly takes the organization to task and recently exposed the amateurism hypocrisy simply by searching its web site.
The NCAA is pursuing Manziel because it wants to uphold the rules that help protect its sacred amateurism ideal. If Sharp, Newt Gingrich, and the general tone of the discussion about the Manziel case are any indication, though, this investigation may only further expose how big of a myth that amateurism ideal really is.