Another college football season begins this weekend, and with it comes the annual fuss over the eligibility of a star player.
This year it's Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who spent his summer cavorting around the country — courtside seats at the NBA Finals, private jets — and, apparently, signing his autograph often enough to flood the marketplace.
Somebody is making money off Manziel's name. As far as the suits who rule college football are concerned, it would be a great evil if that somebody were Manziel himself.
It's perfectly fine for A&M to sell access to its star quarterback — boosters reportedly paid the university $20,000 for the privilege of sitting at Manziel's table at a recent banquet. But according to the NCAA, it's a sin for Manziel to profit.
Unlike the controversies of previous seasons — from Reggie Bush's SUVs to Terrell Pryor's free tattoos to the demands of Cam Newton's father for under-the-table cash for steering his son to a particular school — the Manziel case involves a white player with a privileged background.
Also unlike the Bush, Pryor and Newton cases, the Manziel controversy comes at a time when the NCAA is particularly vulnerable. The NCAA's investigatory arm took a significant black eye when it mishandled the University of Miami case last year; a federal lawsuit, with former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon as lead plaintiff, is challenging the NCAA's use of athletes' names and likenesses for profit.
As television money continues to flood into big-time college football, there is an increasing sense that some of it ought to go to the players. The NCAA, however, is committed the the notion that the players ought not share in the wealth.
It's a hell of a business model.
There is now simply too much money involved in college football — at least at the level of the power conferences, such as the SEC and the Big Ten — for the traditional concept of amateur athletics to sustain itself.
There is now talk among the power conferences of splitting off from the NCAA and going their own route. What form that would take and how they will wedge a doubtless increasingly professional sports model into their academic mission — remember, academics is supposed to be the purpose of universities — is unknown.
But such a development would have the benefit of honesty. Greed is seldom becoming, but it's even more repulsive when wrapped in a phony sanctimony.