Published August 29, 2013
That's it. It's over, it's done. Johnny Manziel will be able to play football Saturday for Texas A&M in the season opener against Rice after serving a suspension that will last a grand total of 1,800 seconds.
And the NCAA?
It just capitulated. It turned in its uniform and playbook. It admitted that it has no power to enforce anymore.
The NCAA sent a message out to the power brokers of the major football conferences -- the ones wanting to set up their own superdivision and set up their own rules -- that if they please, please, please just take the NCAA along with it as the "governing'' body, then it won't cause any trouble, won't try to enforce any rules, won't get in the way.
Manziel was suspended for half of the Rice game? It's over for the NCAA. It's done.
"When institutions are in their death throes, they do unpredictable things, irrational things,'' said Murray Sperber, University of California, Berkeley, professor, and author of several books about the inner workings of college sports. "Mainly, they just want this to go away.
"They didn't know what else to do. If they gave him a severe penalty -- and you can look at cases over the years where they gave severe penalties over T-shirts -- it would have [ticked] off Texas A&M. They probably figured they'd take a hit for this, but that it would go away quicker than if they made him miss five games.''
The NCAA said it has no proof that Manziel took money for the thousands of autographs he signed. It has never exactly needed proof on these things before, but had a much lower standard. Manziel is being punished for some small accidental violation.
The truth is, I'm not sure why a player can't get money for his autograph, anyway. And when dealing with autograph brokers, it can't be easy to find a paper trail. It's a cash business, and the brokers are going to be reluctant to risk getting themselves in legal trouble by talking with the NCAA.
So this isn't to say that the NCAA should have nailed him, but only that is no longer has the power to.
This is all tied up in the major football conference commissioners spending the summer, one after the next, all but threatening to secede from the NCAA. It is about the NCAA's continuing failure in the Miami investigation, where NCAA president Mark Emmert cited unethical behavior in his own body's investigation and had to turn back much of the evidence it uncovered. That ticked off the enforcement staff, which is angry at Emmert for not supporting it, and is now depleted with defections.
Jo Potuto, former chief of the NCAA infractions committee, told me that Emmert can't undergo these investigations with a "white glove approach.'' She wants him to toughen-up, like a police force.
But he can't. The NCAA has no force left.
Meanwhile, the governor of Pennsylvania is suing the NCAA over what he feels was unfair handling of the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky case. And Miami is just waiting for the NCAA to finish up, so it can sue over any penalties.
It will be amazing if the NCAA even tries to come down hard on Miami now.
As for Manziel, well, think about what you're supposed to believe. You're supposed to believe that he signed thousands of autographs out of the goodness of his heart, a human response to a time when he was younger and Tiger Woods blew off a young Johnny Football's autograph request.
You are supposed to believe that ESPN made up the stories it broke on the autographs.
"You hear stories about people signing helmets, and they do these things to go into a lottery to help disabled kids and all of that,'' said Sperber, who became famous years ago for going after Bobby Knight. "But in a hotel room in Florida with a guy who's a dealer?
"If he was signing at a Red Cross headquarters, OK. But come on. We're not idiots. I guess I don't like my intelligence being insulted. Americans are not idiots.''
The NCAA still has the NCAA basketball tournament. And a source told me that big-boy commissioners are inclined not to secede from the NCAA -- who wants to set up a structure for a governing body when one is already in place and willing to capitulate?
I talked recently with attorney Michael Bucker, who has gone up against the NCAA several times. He represents former Miami and current Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith in the Miami case.
Buckner had said that the NCAA might see the Manziel case as real opportunity. It was a high-profile case, and the opportunity to show the world that it still can conduct an investigation well and mete out justice.
Yes, that was the opportunity to show its might. But you know what showed its might even better? An 1,800-second suspension.