Last summer, the face of college football nearly had his season taken away after allegedly reaping a fraction of what his university profited from licensed royalties, including his No. 2 jersey.
Johnny Manziel was fresh off a Heisman Trophy season that included leading Texas A&M University to an upset victory against eventual national champion Alabama — the only blemish on the Crimson Tide’s season — and a 28-point thumping of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
But on the eve of this past season, in which Manziel was set for an encore, the show was paused as his eligibility was tossed into the air.
An autograph dealer allegedly paid Manziel $7,500 for an autograph, a violation of NCAA rules, according to an ESPN report.
From afar, local athletes scoffed at the idea that it was illegal for Manziel to profit from his name while Texas A&M raked in $3,229,811 in licensed royalties that fiscal year.
“They use his name on the back of jerseys and all that kind of stuff in order to make money,” said Logan Brock, a former Copperas Cove and Texas Christian University tight end. “And it’s him out there doing the work. He’s the one out there in the spotlight, and he’s the one putting his body out on the line. And the fact that he can’t even sign an autograph, sign his own name on a picture, is a little crooked.”
To be fair, A&M isn’t allowed to sell jerseys with Manziel’s or any other players’ names on the back. But a nameless version of his No. 2 jersey was available in stores and online.
And Manziel can sign his name — just not for money — and that is what irked athletes like Brock.
“I would say if you’re a big enough kind of name where you can profit off your name, then absolutely,” Brock said. “You put yourself in that position and if you work hard enough to attain that, then you should be able to have that.”
Brock understands the financial perils of being a student athlete, as does fellow Cove graduate Tim Atchison, who echoed Brock’s sentiments about Manziel.
Both local athletes needed help making ends meet while in school.
For Brock, it was a job as a doorman at a local bar.
For Atchison, a 2005 Cove graduate who played safety at Baylor, it was the GI Bill that helped his stepdad help him.
Without either, Brock and Atchison, who both went on to play professionally, might have ended up in the same situation many college athletes face — needing money with no time or means to get it.
“If I didn’t have (the GI Bill funds) coming in,” Atchison said, “I don’t know how I could have possibly made it. I would have definitely been scrounging.”
Atchison said he understands why the NCAA prohibits players from profiting on their image — especially considering every athlete may not be able to profit the same as someone like Manziel — but he still finds the policy unfair.
“I don’t think that they should ever take away someone’s season for that,” he said.
While the investigation caused rumblings of an uprising against the NCAA and its controversial rules, the story ended with a whimper. Manziel was suspended for half of the Aggies’ opener against Rice and the issue was dead.
But for Brock and Atchison, it was just the latest example of the NCAA’s hypocrisy.
“I don’t think it’s fair compared to what the NCAA brings in,” Atchison said.