Commentary editor Adam Walsh discusses how allowing college-level endorsements positively reinforces negative behavior.
In a striking reversal of philosophy, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has changed its player’s rights policy to allow the utilization of a student athlete’s name, image and likeness in promotional material. This translates to allowing students to get paid for things like autograph signings, brand deals and other endorsements. While this change will lead to greater name recognition for up and coming athletes in a variety of sports and limit the history of players getting into trouble for capitalizing on their fame, one has to wonder about the negative side effects that could emerge from giving college students access to potentially massive amounts of capital and influence.
The first individual that comes to mind is good old Johnny Football himself, Johnny Manziel. A college football legend and cautionary tale, Manziel’s abilities to extend plays, employing his natural swiftness and desire to always make something out of nothing led to an extremely disproportionate estimation of his actual capabilities as a quarterback at Texas A&M. Using a more contemporary term, his brand and his desire to push his fame for all it was worth contributed to a series of poor decisions culminating in getting cut by the Cleveland Browns after the first two years of his rookie contract—hardly a great outcome for a first round pick. Part of Manziel’s rapid ascent and far more rapid downfall stemmed from the innate immaturity that affects all of those having just graduated from high school. While each person might reveal their characteristic idiosyncrasies in different ways, recognition from outside sources and the creation of a national reputation encourages an individual to maintain their way of life, incidentally stumping growth and hindering the developmental processes needed to emerge as a functional adult in human society. Johnny Manziel suffered from gaining too much acclaim too quickly, falling into habits of allegedly getting paid for autographs—which would be acceptable under the new NCAA guidelines—and a far more consistent relationship with drugs and alcohol than any interpersonal one. Giving him more wealth and acclaim through brand deals and sanctioned paid autograph signings would have accelerated and exacerbated his own personal issues.
However, the NCAA’s changing guidelines do have some positive possibilities. Former University of Oklahoma tight end Grant Calcaterra retired from football in 2019 due to a series of concussions and other health factors. As a lightsout, body-breaking player, Calcaterra could be seen as a college prototype of the tight end play that now dominates the National Football League; his style reminiscent of physical brutes paradoxically gifted with immense agility like George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Yo Soy Fiesta, alias Rob Gronkowski. It’s extremely unfortunate that a locally known and well-liked player had to retire due to an injury, and it’s even more difficult to realize that the physical play that made him such an asset to OU led to his inability to continue that passion to the next level. If the new NCAA strictures were in place when Calcaterra played at OU, there could have been a mitigating circumstance to his unfortunate decline. Instead of leaving OU with only a series of concussions and college credit, he could have utilized his temporary fame and capitalized on his name-recognition, which could have lightened the medical expenses, both present and future, as well as reduce the burden he suffered for putting his body on the line. There’s also the incidental consequence that every sport not named football will see much less gain than anything directly popular. The inherent market space of a sport does not change and it follows that these guideline changes disproportionately affect sports that have a higher popularity, aka football for most of the Midwest, which is unfortunate because the University of Tulsa’s best sports team is soccer. These athletes that have earned their place as the eighth ranked team are left out to dry.
Of course, one could say that these student athletes already receive more than their fair share of economic incentive. Most of the athletes that would see monumental gains under these new decrees are the types that don’t have to pay for their tuition, staying in school on athletic scholarships and requiring only the bare minimum to remain on the field. Some athletes do make the most of their education opportunities, but the individuals that would see the most change are generally the ones that have enough talent or acumen to make it to the next level. Although that money might not necessarily be wasted, it does seem like an occasion where the rich get richer while those that could properly utilize supplemental funding are relegated to the sidelines.