Tahlequah Daily Press

August 14, 2013

Manziel a mere piece of bulging college landscape


— Johnny Manziel’s attorney, Jim Darnell, told ESPN Radio’s Collin Cowherd that it’s absolutely clear Manziel signed many autographs, but that he’s seen nothing indicating Manziel was paid anything for it.

Also, he said he had no issues with Nate Fitch, who has come to be recognized as Manziel’s personal assistant.

Now think about those two paragraphs. Maybe it’s crazy to think Manziel signed his name so many times for free. Maybe you’re inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Instead, go deeper.

Manziel has an attorney.

Manziel has a personal assistant.

Darnell has made it part of his job to influence public opinion, like that’s supposed to have anything to do with whatever comes down on Manziel. Is he working for Johnny Manziel or Monica Lewinsky?

How did we get here?

Or, put all the drama aside and consider the most basic question it begs.

How big is too big?

Texas, the richest school in the Big 12, wanted to be richer so it created a network to do it. The Longhorns chased Texas A&M and Nebraska out of the conference and almost caused its dissolution.

How big is too big?

We’ve endured three years of conference realignment and, if that’s been settled, the next big step seems to be creating a new playing field for the major conferences, a point Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby drove home at the conference’s football media days.

Really, this could work very well, creating an up-to-date and reasonable landscape that responds to its member schools’ needs without changing the charter of Division I athletics.

Or, it could be off to the races, anything goes and, given the mania that surrounds college football in some locales — the new college game could make the NFL seem quaint.

So how big is too big?

Oklahoma just opened Headington Hall. Bob Stoops has called it a “game changer.” It’s a residence hall. By rule, a majority of its inhabitants cannot be athletes.

I’m sure it’s nice.

But a game-changer?

Like it’s a good thing?

Remember those innocent times when facilities arms races were limited to locker rooms and coaches offices and indoor practice structures and weight rooms and academic centers and stadium scoreboards? And now it extends to student housing athletes can’t even primarily use.

To say nothing of coaching salaries, or here lately, assistant coaches’ salaries.

Think about it.

How big is too big?

Johnny Manziel is only the tip of the spear.

He beat Alabama, became too big for himself and his school and his sport and perhaps he’ll never play another down at Kyle Field. But whether he does or not, the tide’s turning his direction and it’s not a crimson one, but green, like cash.

Because the NCAA really does limit the money an athlete can make through legal means on his own time and, as rightly aimed as a rule like that may be, it can be pretty hard to defend in a courtroom the same way baseball’s reserve clause was great for the game but inhuman toward the players and a reprehensible law.

Manziel did his job on the field, but where others might have become folk heroes, the bigness that college football has become made him a rock star instead.

One temptation is to unlock gates and throw up hands. If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a wave of NCAA deregulation that may be overdue but could easily swing too far. Another course is to stand ground so fiercely that you give it all away because the law was never on your side.

Somewhere in the middle is a right and reasonable course that college presidents and the NCAA better figure out real fast. Because a money machine has been built. Many are swimming in cash. In so many ways, it’s everything everybody ever wanted.

Yet to what end?

Figuring it out is overdue.

How big is too big?

Good question.

We’re close.