The NCAA rule is called 126.96.36.199.
Unless you regularly spend your free time perusing the 12.5s of the bylaws in college sports' nearly 1,000-page operating manual, allow me to refresh your memory on why Johnny Manziel was suspended one half of one game, because, seriously, this is an all-timer.
If a student-athlete's name or picture appears on commercial items (e.g., T-shirts, sweatshirts, serving trays, playing cards, posters) or is used to promote a commercial product sold by an individual or agency without the student-athlete's knowledge or permission, the student-athlete (or the institution acting on behalf of the student-athlete) is required to take steps to stop such an activity in order to retain his or her eligibility for intercollegiate athletics.
In other words, the NCAA couldn't prove Manziel was paid by memorabilia dealers to sign his own name on pictures of himself. They instead hit him because it was obvious that the thousands of items he autographed were certainly going to be sold.
(Apparently, the "he-said-it-was-for-his-sick-nephew" excuse works with the NCAA on only the first 500 or so items.)
Johnny Manziel was punished – lightly, but still punished – by the NCAA because he knew someone was going to make money off his likeness and he didn't stop it.
It sure is a good thing the NCAA is cracking down on that kind of activity from nefarious entities interested in profiting off "Johnny Football" T-shirts, sweatshirts, posters, etc., not to mention using his image to promote a commercial product to be sold by … you know, nefarious entities like the NCAA, the SEC, the BCS, Texas A&M, Nike, EA Sports, CBS, ESPN, Yahoo! Sports and heaven knows how many other "partner" businesses.
If Aggie fans were worried that autographing thousands of pieces of memorabilia might give Manziel writer's cramp, well, imagine what filling out the paper work on all of this is going to do? And how exactly does one turn in the people who just punished him to the people who just punished him?
Oh, and this applies to you A.J. McCarron, Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater and pretty much anyone else currently listed on a two-deep.
Forget outrage. Forget arguing that a guy such as Manziel should be able to profit off his own likeness (which he should). Forget mocking the light penalty – does he get a timeout in the corner, too? Forget even again debunking the ridiculous notion of "amateurism" that college sports exploits.
This isn't the day for that kind of railing.
No, this is a gift from the comic gods, one of the most laughable rulings of all-time not because of the punishment, but because of the bylaw it cited.
Does anyone in college sports have even a modicum of self-awareness? The above rule was written decades ago and twice "revised" – in 1997 and 2005. And yet at no point did someone read it and say, ah, isn't selling the name and likeness of student-athletes on T-shirts and things like that a large part of our business model?
Seriously, has anyone been to the university bookstore lately? It's usually at the center of campus. You can usually find it by the racks of football jerseys they put out on the concourse to lure people. Alas, there isn't much profit anymore in just selling Kierkegaard.
And using a player to promote a commercial product to be sold … don't we do that so well we needed to build a 100,000-seat stadium and our own conference cable TV network to handle all that selling?
The germane language in the ruling, of course, is that it's done without the player's "knowledge or permission." This is rich. Somewhere in the paperwork a player must sign to play gives "permission" for his likeness to be sold by his school and college athletics at large. Naturally, the same group then prohibits anyone else from getting in on the action.
Meanwhile, the mob blushes.
Look, Manziel dodged a big bullet here. The NCAA can't prove a thing, but common sense and basic intelligence says the circumstantial evidence on Manziel was strong. I'd rather watch Johnny Football play than sit because of an inherently bankrupt concept, so whatever. He still shouldn't have risked the hard work and dedication of his teammates for something this foolish.
In this case, however, there is just too much laughter to care. Like Terrelle Pryor before him, Manziel's greatest act as a college football player is exposing this absurdity in all its glory.
Some would argue that it's a damn good thing these colleges are out there punishing players for signing memorabilia and then not stopping the people who asked them to sign it from selling it to breathless collectors/fans.
You know, like last month when the company Aggieland Outfitters, which does business with Texas A&M, had Manziel and fellow Heisman winner John David Crow sign six helmets, which were later auctioned at alumni club meetings. The helmets fetched $81,600 for scholarships, which means, in the end, Texas A&M received every last penny of the money. For that, Johnny Football was praised for his character, generosity and loyalty.
Wednesday, he got suspended. Sometimes, you just can't make stuff like this up.