Johnny Manziel and the NCAA's PR Dilemma

By Matter

Did anyone else see what Johnny Manziel did in the second half of last Saturday’s opening game against Rice? Aside from completing six passes for 94 yards with three touchdowns, the Texas A&M superstar quarterback also went on to embarrass himself, the university and the entire NCAA brain trust by mocking the opposition and pretending to sign an autograph.

My issue as it relates to PR is not with Manziel – although he has done plenty to damage his image since winning the Heisman Trophy. My issue is with the NCAA.  The NCAA was so worried about losing fans and TV revenue that they ignored the problem at hand. Suspending him for one half of one game for violating NCAA policy by signing autographs and profiting from them was a huge PR blunder. By trying to avoid a PR nightmare with their fans, the NCAA created a bigger problem as it relates to their overall messaging. Enforcing such a weak penalty has sent a message to other players that if you are a superstar quarterback then the rules do not apply.

To be honest, I was not surprised by Manziel’s actions on Saturday afternoon. He is a 20-year old college football star who got caught in the heat of competition. He certainly has a lot of growing up to do if he plans on making it big in the NFL. He also might be a flat-out jerk, but in reality he shouldn’t have had the opportunity to go on the field and make a fool of himself. According to NCAA policy, Manziel should have been ineligible for at least the opening game versus Rice.

I might sound like an older-timer with this statement, but if the punishment had met the crime than the NCAA could have avoided the subsequent embarrassment from Manziel. If he knew that his actions would result in more severe consequences then maybe, just maybe, the NCAA could have avoided another PR nightmare.

There are thousands of players that will come and go from the NCAA. As a business, the NCAA needs to think broadly and carefully about decision making when it comes to player reprimanding. Although I understand the need to keep the business running and the fans happy, they could have avoided a long term PR nightmare with their biggest star and set the precedent for future stars that no one player is bigger than the game.