From the Bruins of UCLA to the Gators of Florida, this is the weekend when many college football programs honor their fans. But, thanks to the alleged actions of Johnny Manziel, who has very few fans left at Texas A&M, a lot of autograph seekers will be disappointed this year. Pat Forde has written about the signature scandal for Yahoo! Sports. He joined Doug Tribou.
DT: Pat, briefly remind us of what Manziel is accused of doing and why the NCAA made a big deal about it?
PF: Well Johnny Manziel has allegedly signed thousands of pieces of memorabilia, and while that in and of itself is not that big a deal, was he paid for doing so? Some autograph collectors and sellers have said he was. And if he was and not signing thousands of things out of the goodness of his heart, then that’s a violation of the NCAA amateurism laws, which say you cannot be paid for your signature or likeness.
DT: Manziel’s family is wealthy. If the NCAA can’t trust he signed his name for free, how are they supposed to trust a guy who’s struggling to pay expenses not covered by scholarships?
PF: Probably can’t. That’s the thing. I’m sure this is a real temptation for a lot of guys, so that’s why I think we’ve seen some of the resulting hysteria when it comes to these autograph sessions for fans across the country.
DT: To “protect the eligibility of players,” Louisville will skip its traditional autograph session this weekend. Coach Charlie Strong said it just reinforces the idea that being compensated for autographs or memorabilia is a violation. Is that just another way of saying that it’s OK for schools to profit from a player’s on-field performance, but not his skills with a Sharpie?
PF: Well to me it’s a profound overreaction. Basically you’re preventing the average 9-year-old out there who wants a Teddy Bridgewater autograph, the Louisville quarterback, from getting one because, what? He’s going to sell it? I don’t think so. But this is another example I think of schools not really understanding the situation or how to react to NCAA eligibility situations.
DT: I’m picturing this scenario where a father and son walk into a restaurant and they see a star player and instead of this memorable moment for the kid it ends up with the player saying to the young fan, “Sorry, kid, I’ve got a scholarship to protect.”
PF: The guy may be looking around, “OK, is anybody videotaping me signing this for this kid.” We have created a very, I think, suspicious climate here thanks to Johnny Football and his autograph-mania.
DT: A number of schools including Manziel’s Texas A&M and Miami will only allow players to sign official posters provided at fan events. Florida has had a similar policy in effect for at least 15 years. Does it help?
PF: I think it does help. They at least can say, “We’re doing the best we can to control this. If it happens outside of our purview, that’s what happens.” They can sleep better at night.
DT: This controversy has given even more fodder to the many critics of the NCAA who say amateurism rules need to go. But, you disagree with that notion.
PF: Well I just think it would bring along a host of unintended consequences, almost all of them bad. If you are going to allow college players to profit from their likeness or their jerseys or anything like that they’re going to need agents. And if it’s going to be all about the money, then I think college sports should get out of the sports business. We have the NBA D-League — make it a better league. Get people into that instead of having them go pretend to be students and pretend to be amateurs.