Oh no, they didn’t. Oh, yes they did. Officials at Texas A&M athletics headquarters issued a statement via Twitter on Aug. 14, 2013, in advance of the upcoming open football practice event at Kyle Field, set for Saturday, Aug. 17.
Twitter short, Twitter sweet, the message is:
Fans will receive an autograph card for the players and coaches to sign at “Meet the Aggies.” No other items will be signed. #12thMan
As Sports Illustrated also reported, “The restrictions follow reports of Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel allegedly accepting cash for autograph sessions that would violate NCAA regulations and a preponderance of alleged Manziel autographs available online.” The SI story shared also that Kansas and Louisville also changed their fan signing policies this week as well, noting that Florida had regulated their signings since the 1990s.
The more you consider the fast change in Aggie protocol, more questions than answers are left on the table. An autograph card hardly seems a solution to the problem of autograph signings, without a statement or rule as to who can or cannot sign that card for fans. ESPN reported that “No other items—for example, helmets, footballs, jerseys and photos – will be allowed in the Gilliam Indoor Track Complex,” continuing “all other items must be left at the door.”
Will young Manziel be able to sign for the Aggie fans, the same as all the other players at Kyle Field at the “Meet the Aggies” event? Will he instead be ushered off the field under security and whisked away to his home? What about the feelings of the children under 12 who simply want a quarterback to sign and whose parents paid $59.95 at Academy or at Aggieland Outfitters for a Texas A&M University-licensed #2 maroon jersey? Hardly seems right.
Another question is how will the other members of the Texas A&M football program feel to see the faces of fans who are disappointed if there’s a beeline made for a player who can’t sign, or even if he can, and then one more time this month, the message is loud and clear: if you’re not the quarterback, you’re just the “other guys on the team.” The entire 12th Man legacy for Texas A&M is that there is a team family, united, 11 men on the field and a standing group of fellow Aggies ready to stand together and fill in when called on. Time to face facts.
Fact 1: The open scrimmage event is the last opportunity for people who cannot afford the ultra-pricey season football tickets, including the requisite big donation to the 12th Man Foundation good for lifetime seats (your mileage may vary), to see the team that they’ll be rooting for all year. An autograph card does virtually nothing except limit the number of people you can ask to sign your tiny memory card.
Fact 2: On fan signing day, mostly this audience will include children under 12 to whom each Aggie player is a living, breathing hero, and with limited space to sign, you’re essentially dividing up a team, by making people choose who can cram their signatures into a space, and the potential equity of someone getting “everyone’s signatures” is now convoluted into a choice few. Most of the young Aggie fans will not know the names of the players, their positions, or their jersey numbers to pick from before the season starts. They know one number, and one number only for sure: the number 2, belonging to Johnny Manziel, Johnny Heisman, Johnny Football, or Johnny Angel depending on your level of conviction.
Most folks can’t tell you Ben Malena’s number off the top of their heads, and that’s something that Texas A&M Athletics has addressed. Today they are introducing a new “recurring feature article series brought to you by the 12th Man Foundation.” The first installment is “Big Ben,” focused on senior running back Ben Malena. Talented Aggie journalist Rusty Burson has shared a wonderful profile on a special young man and team leader. Malena is one whose signature children should surely ask for and save throughout their lives. Smart move by Aggie Athletics.
The entire Texas A&M community is swirling in a vortex of anthems being perpetuated right now, “it’s just so sad that Aggies can’t sign autographs but the university makes money off of them, poor Aggies, isn’t it a shame,” that the concept of NCAA rules and regulations are now painted as the ridiculous enemy, even though no one has challenged them much, and even after, the NCAA was looked to as the authority to sanction. If you don’t refute the NCAA rule, you’re automatically labeled a “hater.”
ESPN reported “Texas A&M also said players and coaches would remain seated at the event and would not pose for photos.” Immediately your mind flashes to “other sports” at A&M, dying for a fan base, and players on the women’s basketball team who have spent hours patiently on the court, after Gary Blair has beat on every door in town begging people to come to games for the 2010 National Champions. For years Blair has worked relentlessly to build interest, and the young fans have responded in kind in slowly building a fan base. And now Texas A&M rules for football will change and it won't be long before basketball changes soon. Someone please explain all this to the parents that their 5-year-old daughter can't pose for a cameraphone scrapbook memory with their favorite Aggie players because they'll have to sit down too, and not pose for pictures. Doesn’t have one thing to do with football, yet the impact will be that far-reaching. Just give them time.
A photograph and football (separately) autographed by Johnny Manziel this past spring donated by (separate) private donors to two local Bryan-College Station charities brought approximately $11,000, collectively, to those charities, one of which supports college scholarship(s) for deserving student(s) and another for lifesaving medical research. Is anyone at NCAA or Texas A&M headquarters thinking about how much good has now been officially negated by trying to mess with the construct of all the good that is accomplished with signatures on memorabilia that was auctioned off for charity?
In the past calendar year, in addition to items signed by Johnny Manziel, other team sports members have signed memorabilia that were auctioned and made tremendous contributions to local area charities. All that is gone, too? It’s essentially cutting off the life blood of nonprofits previously sufficiently fortunate to have event patrons wanting to bid on these items and give money that they would not give otherwise.
The impact and the aftermath is because, theoretically and allegedly, one person didn’t stop to think about the consequences of what is reportedly over 4000 autographs by one player versus the consequences for joy given through one or two autographs by 250 other student athletes who represent Texas A&M University, the SEC, the NCAA and love for college sports each year.
Two questions remain: (1) is Texas A&M now appearing to be proactive in preventing future autograph violations by issuing a small, approved card to sign (not much), and (2) who among the Aggie fan base finds the policy change slightly ridiculous as it accomplishes virtually nothing except to divide loyalties? And the new policy of not having coaches or players pose for pictures? Well that’s been approved too, at least by one person (see the above photo). Here we go, again. Call Barnum and Bailey and tell them their circus is missing a few clowns and we know where to find them.