Teddy Bridgewater is the last man standing, the last one, apparently, to still believe in what the NCAA has always been selling.
That’s why it was so striking Thursday that, within an hour of when college football’s best NFL quarterback prospect, Louisville’s Bridgewater, was pushing the NCAA’s longtime wholesome message, the head of the NCAA was sprinting away from it in fear.
“At the end of the day,’’ Bridgewater said, “I don’t play college football for money or anything. I’m here for my education.’’
If you feel like you’re waiting for a punchline after that, know that it came an hour later, when NCAA president Mark Emmert said the NCAA was getting out of the jersey-selling business because he could see “how people would find it hypocritical.’’
This is all coming to a head. Right now. Johnny Manziel is alleged to have gotten five figures for selling his autograph. Jerseys and memorabilia and autographs for several top college players, including Bridgewater, are all for sale on eBay. The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit over who owns a player’s image and name is building momentum against the NCAA.
The commissioners of the five major conferences, wanting to make their own rules and pay players, are all but threatening to secede from the NCAA in football. And Jay Bilas is on Twitter pointing out that the NCAA is selling jerseys on one of its websites.
Yes, at the same time the NCAA was prohibiting players — under the amateur ideal — from making money on their own names, the governing body itself was selling those names.
So Emmert said they won’t do that anymore. He is on the run. The NCAA is on the run.
And Bridgewater? He said Thursday that he had no idea how 14 of his autographs were on the web, selling for up to $250 apiece. He said no one has ever offered him money to sign.
He just signs for kids after games and loves seeing their smiling faces. And on top of that, while Manziel is out running around to be seen everywhere, Bridgewater almost never seems to step out into the world. Why?
Because, he says, he stays home playing NCAA Football 2014. He gets to play a video game as himself.
“I’m blessed to even be on the game,’’ Bridgewater said.
You know, Teddy, people are making money off your likeness on that game. And the NCAA is breaking off its relationship with EA Sports, meaning we won’t see NCAA logos on these games in the future. Emmert was finally pressured into seeing the hypocrisy in that, too.
Let’s get right to it. I asked Bridgewater if it bothers him that people are making money off his autograph on eBay, and off his image on video games at the same time NCAA rules prohibit him from making money off his own name.
“Not at all,’’ he said. “I know if all of my hard work on this level pays off, then I’ll be able to make money on the next level. I feel my education is priceless.
“As long as I can get a quality education, great education, then I have no problem with the guys out there doing what they’re doing.’’
Bridgewater sounds like so much of a salesman of the amateur ideal that you wonder if he really even means it, or if maybe he was coached to say it. The momentum is strongly against what he was saying. But the thing is, he makes the sales pitch so well, and it’s only fair to take him at his word.
The truth is, I don’t agree with Bridgewater. Not entirely. There is no good reason that a player can’t sell his autograph if he wants and get a good education. Even if you’re opposed to college athletes being paid, you have to realize that it’s not as if tax dollars are going toward payment for autographs.
But Bridgewater brings up a great point, anyway, and it’s one that is now being lost in the collapse of the NCAA.
He is getting a fully-paid-for education, for five years if he wants, with tutoring. Depending on the school, what is that worth around the country? Is it $100,000? $200,000? More? He also is getting a weekly appearance on TV in front of his potential employers.
He shows the other side of the argument better than anyone.
Look, I believe that the amateur ideal is dead and buried because there are just too many dollars out there going around. In fact, players should be able to get agents to help them cut their best deals, including autograph shows if they want.
That said, as Bridgewater points out, these players are getting real value already. And there is something refreshing about hearing a college athlete say that he values his education, and will start his career when it’s time.
Meanwhile, the NCAA is in such disarray now that it doesn’t seem to stand anymore, for what it always stood for. In giving up its EA Sports relationship and now stopping sales of jerseys on the website, isn’t it giving in on its own argument in the O’Bannon case?
If it thinks it should own the image and likeness of NCAA athletes present and past, then why is it suddenly finding it wrong to sell the image the likeness?
“We probably never should have been in that business,’’ Emmert said. “We’re not going to be doing that any longer.’’
Emmert can’t stop the bleeding. And it’s so bad for the NCAA that when Bridgewater makes its case for them, it sounds off-beat.
“When we have fan days, or after games when fans and children come out, that’s who we do it (sign autographs) for,’’ Bridgewater said. “As long as it’s going for a good cause, in my eyes, I have no problem with it.’’
Good cause? I reminded him his autographs are being sold on eBay.
“As far as selling it, I have no control over that,’’ he said. “The day that we have signings, or for little kids at camps, those are autographs I cherish most. Being able to give back to those children means a lot to us.’’