DALLAS — UNTIL THIS WEEK, we all thought Johnny Football, as the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner, was the ultimate Big Man On Campus.
Turns out he’s the ultimate Big Man Online.
What Johnny Manziel said Monday as a matter of explanation for what his life was like these days had, by Tuesday afternoon, become part of the crawl line on ESPN: Johnny Manziel said he is taking all of his courses online this semester.
Manziel said he originally had a regular English class on his spring schedule. The photos and autographs and attention were a bit too much, he said, and so he changed his schedule to take four sports management classes online.
As a result, Manziel said he is on campus four days a week to lift weights but only visits campus about once a month to take tests for the online classes.
Basically, he was trying to explain to all of his detractors and critics how it’s possible that he can be at the Super Bowl or Mardi Gras or awards dinners when other students would be restricted by more rigid class schedules.
There is a price to be paid for being the first do to anything, and while the loss of a private life mostly doesn’t seem to bother Manziel — his Twitter account would suggest he embraces the challenge — he was almost going out of his way here to justify something that requires no justification.
Athletes earn credits taking online classes the same as regular students, which I would define as those who walk into lecture halls, turn on tape recorders and put their heads down to nap.
Regardless, college life isn’t what it once was. Students watch lectures on their iPads in dorm rooms. It should come as no surprise that an athlete who has achieved celebrity status — and no other college student can rival Johnny Football’s status at this point — might shy away from getting himself stuck in crowds of fawning students.
Even adoring Aggies can be a bit much.
I think it’s a good reminder that while we maintain these images, frozen in time, that these are “student athletes,” in some cases — Manziel’s in particular — they simply are not. He can’t walk the campus or hang out at the student union in the fashion of other students. He doesn’t need to be treated as a regular student by antiquated NCAA rules, either.
There are critics out there still asking how Manziel can afford those NBA front-row seats, the Mardi Gras and Super Bowl trips, etc. There are explanations as to why he can, but my biggest response is: Who cares?
He has generated millions of dollars for Texas A&M and not just through ticket sales to football games. Sports Business Journal estimated that Robert Griffin III’s Heisman season was worth $250 million to Baylor. If that is accurate, how much is Manziel in the process of making for the Aggies?
For Manziel, like so many others bound for professional sports, the focus — and it’s driven into them by their coaches — is to maintain eligibility. While he won’t be making an announcement any time soon, I have a hard time seeing Manziel doing more than producing one more great season for the Aggies before making himself eligible for the 2014 draft.
Remember that while he was a freshman in eligibility last fall, this is his third spring on the Texas A&M campus. And if there are questions about his size and arm strength that weren’t answered by Russell Wilson’s rookie season and playoff success in Seattle, I don’t know what they are.
For now, however, he wants to go about his business while generating unprecedented revenues for Texas A&M — that truly is his business.