College Football Coverage: The Saga Of Johnny Manziel

I hadn’t intended for the first post of TheSportsNotebook’s 2013 college football coverage to be about the off-field activities of one player who’s already getting too much media attention. But the case of Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel is not only dominating the media, it’s also raised several questions, both on-field and off.

Let’s begin with the general landscape. Manziel has been in the news constantly all summer, rivaling Alex Rodriguez for the most-covered story. He reportedly partied too much in his work as a counselor at Peyton Manning’s summer camp. He’s been seen hobnobbing with the rich and famous, from courtside at the NBA, to partying with Justin Timberlake, to being photographed in a casino to exchanging trash talk with an Oklahoma fan on Twitter.

Finally, the offseason tour de force reached its peak with word that the NCAA was investigating Manziel for allegedly selling autographs at the BCS National Championship Game last January.

What to make of all this? Here are a few thoughts…

*When it comes to most of the stuff that’s keeping him in the headlines, my reaction is simply “So what?” There’s nothing wrong with doing any of this, and it’s frankly our problem as a culture if we insist on tracking a soon-to-be college sophomore like his every move is that important.

Should Manziel be doing all this? Since I’m not his father, counselor or spiritual director, it’s really none of my business, given there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of it. The only exception, I suppose, would be the almost certain fact that he’s probably drinking while underage. You aren’t going to get me too excited over this, but I suppose he has to take the same consequences any other college kid would. Please note though, the same consequences, which don’t include non-step media castigation.

*When it comes to how this plays out on the field, I have to think Texas A&M wishes Manziel would shut up and not be seen. You can’t tell me these displays aren’t getting pasting on every bulletin board in the SEC, a conference not exactly short of hungry defensive players who’d like to take out a kid they think has gotten too big for his britches.

Manziel’s antics don’t make me hate him, or even dislike him, but there’s no doubt he’s really putting himself on the line. Some athletes have made that work, but they’re a distinct minority. TheSportsNotebook will look at the football side of things in the SEC preview coming up later on today, but I’ll say right here that I’m not a believe Manziel can navigate the storm, at least on the field.

*The one serious allegation would be regarding the selling of autographs. I’ll begin by saying that if Manziel did this anywhere, much less a venue as public as the Alabama-Notre Dame game last January in Miami, it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen an athlete do. How can he possibly think he’s going to get away with it? How can his entourage, including his father, who seems pretty involved in his career, think no one is going to notice?

But that very fact makes me believe that this whole affair is likely nonsense. It’s far easier to believe that the NCAA would waste time and resources on an investigation than it is to believe Manziel’s entire entourage would pull off such an act of hubris. The NCAA is the rare organization who pulls off the trifecta of being corrupt, hypocritical and incompetent all in one fell swoop. A lot of organizations have one, or even two of those attributes. It’s take a special breed to nail the Triple Crown, but the NCAA has done it.


I’ve put that question as a separate subhead, because it’s really what’s on my mind as I watch this Manziel saga unfold in the media. The “we” is the sports fans of America and the place college athletes occupy in our landscape.

Really, what are we doing, when a 19-year-old kid is given this kind of adulation, and also this kind of pressure? Let’s get more specific—a 19-year-old college kid. It’s not like this is a high school kid who went straight to the NBA and is making millions. Johnny Manziel gets his scholarship. He’s not compensated any more than a science genius who made it to A&M on scholarship.

It’s not surprising that Manziel is soaking up his fifteen minutes of fame in ways that might been unhealthy, but it’s the rare 19-year-old that wouldn’t. Yet, it’s all in danger of unraveling. Manziel has said he can’t wait to leave College Station, a place he can’t even attend classes because of being mobbed.

His father has openly expressed fear to ESPN The Magazine that his son is developing a drinking problem as a coping mechanism. What are we doing?  Have we reached a point where you can’t love college football without treating the kids who play it like rock stars?

I find it easy to let the hubris of a 19-year-old pass with nary a mention. The real question is where are the adults in the room?