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The NCAA And Johnny Manziel Have A Little Kabuki Theater

Johnny Manziel was declared innocent of the alleged violations, then punished anyway -- but just a little.


Today, Johnny Manziel was punished by the NCAA, according to this article from ESPN:

Johnny Football will start the season on the bench, but he won't be there for long.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel of No. 7 Texas A&M has been suspended for the first half of Saturday's season opener against the Rice Owls, A&M and the NCAA announced Wednesday in a joint statement.

The statement said there was no evidence that Manziel received payment for signing autographs.

So the question becomes, exactly what did Manziel get punished for? If the concerns of the NCAA were unfounded, what could possibly have resulted in the suspension of an innocent player for half a game? ESPN tries to explain:

The NCAA and A&M agreed on the one-half suspension because Manziel violated NCAA bylaw, an NCAA spokesperson confirmed. The rule says student-athletes cannot permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products, or accept payment for the use of their names or likenesses.

Oh, so Manziel did violate a bylaw. Bowing to the demands of reason, I shall relate said bylaw for your due consideration and evaluation, thus:

12.5.2 Nonpermissible. Advertisements and Promotions After Becoming a Student-Athlete.
After becoming a student-athlete, an individual shall not be eligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if the individual:

(a) Accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind; or

(b) Receives remuneration for endorsing a commercial product or service through the individual’s use of such product or service.

Okay, so this is the same bylaw he was alleged to have violated by the so-called "memorabilia dealers." So he did violate the bylaw, apparently, but in what particular? We are not told.

Then there is this, from Manziel's lawyer:

"We don't really believe [the suspension] was warranted, but we believe NCAA and Texas A&M worked with us to get this matter resolved," Darnell told ESPN. "Johnny was willing to accept it to get back on the football field and compete."

Get it now? The NCAA issued this suspension purely for public relations purposes. It believed that Manziel was probably guilty, but couldn't prove it. So they demanded he sit out a half or face an NCAA rectal exam that would probably get him suspended by TAMU to avoid vacating games if the NCAA ruled against him in any particular. In other words, it was a compromise for no other reason than the appearance of punishing a player.

Does this remind anyone of Cam Newton? I suspect it does. The NCAA was unwilling to declare Manziel ineligible because of the incredibly negative fallout that would surely have followed anything but a slam-dunk case of transgression against the Heisman winner. But the NCAA was uncomfortable with the, "there's not enough evidence, so it never happened" outcome, and strong-armed a token punishment so it wouldn't look like it was giving a total pass to Manziel because of his obvious value to college football.

No matter what, the NCAA was going to come out of this badly unless it had some kind of clear and convincing evidence against Manziel, which everyone agreed a long time ago did not exist. If the NCAA makes Manziel miss a bunch of games while it lines up it's vanishing corps of investigators to search out the smoking gun, it is pilloried in the press. If it just walks away, it is pilloried in the press as unwilling to disqualify a scofflaw superstar. By doing this, it will be pilloried also, but mildly.

Nobody will really care that it punished an apparently innocent actor for no reason other than it's own press clippings. What this was, quite honestly, Penn St. in microcosm. The NCAA had no authority under its own rules to issue a punishment, yet they did so to get a "lesser of the evils" outcome most advantageous to it.