Another NCAA mixed message

By Tony Barnhart
Updated: September 9, 2010

ATLANTA — I’ll be honest. My first reaction when I heard of A.J. Green’s four-game suspension was one of anger.

And it wasn’t because Green owes any of us anything. I want to see the guy play because he’s a great player. And when there is a big game like Saturday’s between Georgia and South Carolina I want both teams to have all of their weapons.

I love college football and I want to see great players play. And we’ve got too many guys who are not playing right now because of NCAA rules violations.

No, I was angry at A.J. because it seems so unnecessary. Early next year A.J. Green is going to be a very wealthy man because he is going to turn pro. So the money was coming.

A.J. is a smart kid and he knew that there is no level where selling his jersey for a lousy $1,000 bucks was not a rules violation. The risk/reward/punishment equation for doing this just didn’t add up.

If this NCAA ruling stands (three more games on suspension), and it shouldn’t because it’s excessive, what should be an unforgettable junior season for Green will be forever tainted with “Yeah, he was good but he missed four games.” That made me sad and, at first, angry.

But I learned a long time ago that it’s easy for us adults to wag our fingers and say “Hey, those are the rules. You gotta follow them.”

We’re not in the kid’s shoes.”

“We don’t have to watch while the schools fill the stadiums, accept millions from television and make more millions from selling his jersey (with his name on it) while the system pats us on the head and assures us that our day is coming if we’ll only be patient. We really only learn that kind of patience as an adult.”

Youth, by its very defintion, is not patient.

Understand that the NCAA makes these rules not to regulate what actually happens, like one kid selling a jersey for $1,000. The rules are in place to control what COULD happen — like a kid selling 500 jerseys (provided to him by an agent) for $1,000 each. The NCAA punishes the nickle and dime stuff in hopes of preventing something really big and bad from happening.

When Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant lied to investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders, the NCAA banned him for the rest of his junior season. Bryant was not truthful but was his lie REALLY that bad?

Well, no but the move sent a chilling message to other athletes: Lie to NCAA investigators and you’re done. That message was received and understood. Now before every interview with the NCAA the kid has the fear of God put in him.

That was by design.

Yes, the financial end of college athletics is certainly to the benefit of the schools. It’s all one big double standard, we know that.

But certain things are just a blatant slap in the face to these guys.

The fact that A.J. Green may lose a third of his junior season for selling a jersey while the University Bookstore sells a bunch of them is a double slap. It’s the establishment telling these kids: We can make money off your talent and fame in every damn way we please. If you try it, though, we’ll use the rules to take you out and to keep you in line.

The NCAA enforcement people have been working overtime this summer trying to keep a lid on a bunch of these issues from Agent Gate to Hotel Gate. At the core of all of them is a system where the athletes realize on a daily basis that they are getting a raw deal. They get to the point where they don’t care any more.

It’s “hey, if they catch me they catch me but I’m not taking this any more.”

We as fans wonder where the loyalty is to the institution. But through the eyes of a young kid from modest or poor circumstances, that loyalty street seems to only run one way.

I don’t have a lot of answers for you this morning but I would suggest this: A school like Georgia should be able to sell all of the No. 8 jerseys it wants. The jersey and the number belong to the school.

But when some schools — and I am told that Georgia is not one of them — start putting name on the back on the jersey then you have crossed an ethical line.

What the kid did on the field made that jersey more valuable than a generic one. He created that extra value and cannot share in it.

So the school shouldn’t share in it either.

So let’s just end that practice. Is it a little thing in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely. But it would be one less slap in the face to a group of people who are getting tired of being pushed around.