If there was ever a collegiate athlete who needed to stay in school rather than jump into the tsunami of the NFL, it’s Johnny Manziel. As his story continues to unfold, it would seem that the only positive outcome of Johnny’s career may be that it serves as a cautionary tale for the next generation of NCAA superstar. The issue of paying collegiate athletes, especially those athletes performing for programs that are financially capitalizing in unprecedented ways, is a hot button topic. What rarely gets discussed is the impact of a stifling NCAA that almost forces kids to exit school as early as they can. They won’t pay these kids, and they won’t let these kids profit even in the most mundane ways. Johnny Manziel didn’t really need to leave College Station early. The usual financial considerations that many athletes have to deliberate, wasn’t an issue for Manziel. He comes from money. I would venture to ascertain that his impetus to leave school early had a lot to do with breaking free of the NCAA, and their draconian rules. It would be safe to say that Johnny Manziel’s life has gone into a tail-spin ever since leaving school early.
He signed some memorabilia (allegedly) and they were all over him like…well you know. It was clear while he was still at Texas A&M that Johnny hadn’t fully matured. His behavior, though arguably ‘normal’ for a college kid was scrutinized to the point of suffocation. The college years are designed for kids to act the fool to a certain extent. It allows for young adults to gracefully mature into actual adults. Johnny was just getting started in that process when he fell victim to the trappings of being a freshman quarterback, Heisman prodigy. He was as exciting a college football player to come around in a decade, and he shouldn’t have left school early. College football fans got cheated, and Johnny was cheated out of at a least two more years of maturity, experience, and accomplishment. But he really didn’t have a choice did he?
I would argue that NCAA policies as currently constructed, force talented kids out and into the professional ranks much earlier than is judicious, or necessary. Most 18-21 year old kids don’t need the added pressure of the ‘gotcha’ NCAA philosophy in dealing with it’s ‘student athletes’. I contend that if the NCAA would relax a little, and perhaps update it’s archaic rules to better fit the modern student athlete, then perhaps more of the talent would stay in school longer, and take better advantage of the education and experience. In the case of Johnny Manziel, we are witnessing a kid who should still be going to frat parties, acting as if he never left school. Behavior that in the context of college is normal, he is now being vilified for. Yes, he took the money and the responsibility that goes with it is non-negotiable, but I think it’s clear that he was never ready to begin with.
We have a terrible habit of feeding our young, and talented to the wolves. We stifle the college athlete with rules so that they leave school early, then crush them the second they exhibit some immaturity, which is completely age appropriate. What has Johnny Manziel done that’s out of context for his age? He drinks too much? Parties too much? Fights with his girlfriend? Gets into some mischief? I recognize these behaviors, it’s called being a college kid. 6 months before he was drafted he was getting in fights at frat parties. However, get drafted, sign the contract, take the money, then all bets are off. Johnny now has to play by adult rules while his development is back on campus, and we are all shocked? Who benefitted from Johnny Manziel going pro? Not Johnny. Not the Cleveland Browns. Not the NFL. And I would argue that the NCAA is complicit in creating an atmosphere where kids feel used, and oppressed, and as a result leave school before they’re ready. I would ask the NCAA to what aim? Perhaps a more congenial relationship with the student athlete would be better for everyone, no?
To be clear, I am not trying to absolve Johnny Manziel of his behavior. He has not lived up to his responsibilities, and he needs to grow up, and fast. My point is what’s wrong with the environment in collegiate athletics that makes it possible for kids to rush out into the professional ranks before they are ready? Financial considerations are one thing, but the adversarial relationship and dealing in bad faith is something the NCAA is responsible for. It will be interesting to see what becomes of Johnny Manziel and his NFL career, whatever is left of it, but from where I stand I can easily see the genesis of where it started going sideways. Bottom line is this, let these kids breathe a little. Let them develop. We need not have anymore Johnny Manziel stories to understand that something is seriously wrong.