Who Owns Johnny Manziel’s Name and Face?

(Note, this writer is disclosing he was paid for two speeches speech at Texas A&M and another as part of a Texas A&M program at the George Bush Presidential Library in August 2007.)

The college football world is just about ready to rev up the hype machine and get the 2013 season going with a major question that is unanswered. Will the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel be on the field when the season starts?

A little background is necessary here. It is alleged that Manziel was given money to sign autographs on thousands of pieces of memorabilia after he won the Heisman Trophy.

If Manziel is found guilty by the sports’ overseer, the NCAA, he could be suspended for violating his scholarship or contract with Texas A&M which does not allow Manziel (along with every other college athlete playing big time sports) to profit off of his or her name.

Whether the story is true or not, just the thought of a player making money off of his name and fame has to be driving the caretakers of college sports—college and university presidents, provosts and chancellors— crazy. After all, the governing body of big time college sports—the National Collegiate Athletic Association—knows the athletes are there to be exploited and how dare someone like Manziel, who should be eternally grateful for an almost fully paid college scholarship that limits an athlete’s ability to earn money working while under contract (the scholarship is a contract) to about $2,000 annually, use his name and likeness from on-field fame to enhance his pockets.

Manziel and other college athletes should know that they are no more than meat on the hook and role players in the money machine—a machine that allegedly is a losing proposition for many big time college sports colleges and universities. Athletes do not get paid for playing, although they are the ones people pay to see and enable schools to get huge amounts of money from cable TV networks, licensing revenues and stadium ticket sales.

Most college football fans and those of college sports in general accept the heavy handed way of the NCAA. After all the player is getting a scholarship along with a chance for an education and should be happy to get a chance at doing what they like whether it is playing football or field hockey. The way the contracts or scholarships are written, the player is at the mercy of the school and coaches. That contract or scholarship is renewed annually by the schools and can be terminated at a whim.

The NCAA through broadcast partners, whether it is Sumner Redstone’s CBS, Comcast’s NBC, Disney’s ESPN-ABC, Rupert Murdoch’s FOX or Turner Sports always emphasis the student athlete and education. The networks are willing partners in this fairy tale. So are all of the other assorted people and hanger-oners around any college sports program including boosters, alumni, marketing partners, luxury box and club seat purchasers, politicians (who have allowed college programs to, in certain states, pay coaches millions of dollars at the taxpayers’ expense (although some of that money is made up from marketing partners payments, contributions to sports programs and cable TV networks salaries for coach’s shows) who get their thrills from watching 18-year-olds to 22-year-old play for Alma Mater U. what amounts to minor league sports for no money.

The very term student-athlete is an interesting combination of words. It implies that the scholarship players are students first and athletes second. But the tern has nothing to do with either students or athletes. Instead it’s a clever ruse.

The term student-athlete was reportedly coined so schools would not be required to pay workman’s compensation to injured or killed-on-the-field players like Ray Dennison.

Dennison, a player with Fort Lewis A&M, died on September 26, 1955, after suffering head injuries in a game against Trinidad State Junior College on the opening kickoff. His widow applied for workmen’s compensation but was denied. She ultimately went before the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled she was ineligible for benefits because Ray Dennison was not a school employee and Fort Lewis A&M was not in the football business.

While the players are stuck in some sort of 19th century contact, their coaches live in the 21st century. They get paid by the school, they get paid by sneaker companies and other sponsors and if another job opportunity comes up, they can break a contract and go without fear of reprisal. The players who “work” for schools have seen some of those schools leave long term partners for other conferences in pursuit of cable TV money. If a player tries to break his or her contract, they have to sit out a year and lose a year of playing eligibility.

Texas A&M is not saying much about the NCAA investigation but there may be a hopeful sign that at least one college president, provost or chancellor “gets it” and understands that players are human and not just meat on the hook. Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp told reporters on Thursday that athletes like Manziel should be able to profit from autographs sales.

The NCAA is a monopoly that has been given all sorts of business advantages by Congress including an antitrust exemption which gives schools and conferences a waiver from paying taxes earned at bowl games. There is also the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 which gives all sports leagues, professional and college, a blanket antitrust exemption and allows leagues to bundle individual franchises (or colleges) as one entity and then that entity is sold as an entertainment package to a bidder. That both raises the value of a television deal and socializes payments with bigger name schools getting the same money as smaller schools in national deals.

Manziel means money to Texas A&M, the NCAA and cable and over-the-air television networks. He is bankable to everyone except himself. The people who live in the ivory tower at the various schools know that and the fight that could eventually materialize may come right down to marketing rights and who exactly owns the name and likeness of college athletes? The athlete or the school.

Evan Weiner can be reached at evanjweiner@gmail.com. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at Amazon.com and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/americas-passion-how-coal/id595575002?mt=11),  From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/from-peach-baskets-to-dance/id636914196?mt=11)  and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/business-and-politics-of-sports-evan-weiner/1101715508?ean=2940044505094) are available at www.smashwords.com, iTunes, nook, versent books, kobo, Sony reader and Diesel.