4105_miami_dolphins-primary-2013 copyThe prolonged mediocrity of the Miami Dolphins has shifted the perspective of the fan-base. The glimmer of hope that this past season showed worked to mask the overwhelming failures that have pervaded the organization.

Yes, there are positives. The defensive line — anchored by Cameron Wake and Paul Soliai — has been a main reason as to why the Dolphins kept so many games close.

Punter Brandon Fields has cemented his claim as one of the top players at his position in the league. Tight end Charles Clay seemed to prove himself as one of the better draft picks of late. Cornerback Brent Grimes, although signed to a one-year contract, was a great surprise.

And sophomore quarterback Ryan Tannehill may well be the second best player at his position in franchise history, behind Dan Marino. Tannehill has one of the highest quarterback ratings in Dolphins history, joining the ranks of Marino and Chad Pennington (and current back-up Matt Moore). As well, only Marino has more 300-yard passing games in a single-season. He is the only quarterback in franchise history who has thrown for more than 3,000 yards in each of his first two seasons with the team.

But past those rays of light, much of the team has been a crippling disappointment.

The old guard of Bill Parcells & Co. received much mockery for their perception of the importance of the offensive line. Many critics disagreed with their approach.

But regardless of perception, that was their plan. And in a baffling turn of events, the Dolphins’ offensive line has turned into one of the worst in the league.

With a proclivity to collapse into itself, the O-Line has given Tannehill minimal support. In essence, it has diminished his ability to play well.

More than the offensive line, the running backs have also been severely underwhelming. In football, a sickly running game has a tendency to infect the passing game. A healthy running program can facilitate play-action calls and can trip up the defense. But, with the Dolphins, offensive play is fairly one-sided.

Tannehill has been put in a position where it is easy to fail. And, in his credit, he has not failed. He has persevered in spite of his teammates, not because of them.

The rest of the team has been exceptionally average — an interminable purgatory in sports. And, in all fairness to the upper management of the Dolphins (who, at the time of this writing, still have their jobs), is not entirely their fault. But at some point, the time has to expire for hiding behind Parcell’s mistakes.

The front office’s attempts at fixing the team have fallen flat — especially with their linebacker additions (Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler).

They inherited the sinking ship, and they have had trouble righting it. It hasn’t sunk yet. But it sure isn’t floating well.

Even though the team fell one win away from making the playoffs, many positions could use a thorough shake-up. The job that Tannehill has done (in spite of his mediocre teammates) exemplifies how much better this team could be.

Despite the team’s record that lies at an even .500, the negatives outweigh the positives. There’s still time to rebuild, of course, with free agency and the draft upcoming, but there has been little evidence that the team is capable of doing that. They haven’t done it yet.

Accompany118

For the typical sports fan, the way to fix chaos is with carnage. When something goes awry, someone deserves to lose their job.

In the case of the Miami Dolphins, fans want Jeff Ireland to pay for Jonathan Martin’s departure from the team. At the time of this writing, Ireland remains the general manager of the Dolphins and Martin remains separated from the team.

In Kyle Munzenreider’s editorial in the Miami New Times, he called for Ireland’s job — as retribution for his (mis)handling of the Martin situation as well as for his colored past in his current role.

Accusing Ireland of doing a good job as general manager would be an uphill fight — and I am not about to make it. But calling for his firing in response to Martin leaving the team due to reported bullying issues is mistimed and objectionable.

If Ireland deserved to lose his job over this, the moral outcry should have come out as soon as the story did. By waiting until it exploded to a national level, the fans are calling for the team to fire Ireland not because of the action — but because of the reaction.

Most of the accusations levied against the Dolphins in regards to Jonathan Martin (bullying, racism, and monetary pressure) are league-wide issues and should not end with Ireland losing his job. Not because of this.

And I should not be mistaken for an Ireland-apologist. Through his impropriety and incompetency as general manager, his future in his current role should be in question.

Ireland’s history includes insulting Dez Bryant’s mother at the draft combine, insulting fans, making poor personnel moves, and simply being a disagreeable person.

However, Ireland serves a convenient, but inappropriate, scapegoat for Jonathan Martin’s departure.

Yes, there are team-related issues to address, such as how they allowed the situation to escalate to this point. But a hair-trigger firing is not an efficient method of rehabilitation. If a lack of institutional control is the allegation, then the decimation of the institution is not the cure — it is an improvement of the already-standing situation.

When fans see a firing in response to a bad situation, the chapter seems complete, like it has been resolved. In reality, that move is the easy move. It is a band-aid that doesn’t necessarily enact any true change.

When the Miami Marlins fired Ozzie Guillén, the team remained bad. When Mike Brown was fired after six games, the Lakers barely regained ground and drowned their way to a first-round elimination.

The correct move would be to conduct a thorough investigation to discern the origin of the problem and how far-reaching it is and was. If cover-ups were so grotesque (i.e. the Penn State scandal), then firings are in order. If corrections can be made without anyone losing their job, then that is the best course of action.

If Jeff Ireland were to be fired on the basis of his personnel decisions, I would have no complaint over the decision. When an employee — any employee — gets wrongfully terminated for another person’s misdeed, problems can get exacerbated, not solved.

Florida PanthersA certain malady plagues South Florida pro sports teams. It’s the sickness of inconsistency. The Dolphins own the undefeated season … and have only had one winning season since the start of the 2004 season. The Heat are one of the best teams in basketball right now … but have a .486 winning percentage besides the “Big Three” era. The Marlins have won two world championships … but have not been in the playoffs in any of their other 20 years of existence. The Panthers have had a Stanley Cup appearance and were in the playoffs two years ago … but have only been there four times over 19 seasons. 

There are no dynasties in South Florida. Not long-term, anyway. Each team’s root cause is variable, but one thing remains constant: a change in ownership. The Marlins have had three. The Heat have had two. The Dolphins have had three. And now the Panthers have five.

It was recently announced that Vincent Viola, a Brooklyn native and former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), has purchased the hockey team from Cliff Viner for $250 million.

Along with a purchase of a team, hope always abounds. It’s a fresh start, a new commitment.

It could be those things. It also could not. But one thing is certain: it will come with a period of optimism.

In fact, it started the day that it was officially reported that Viola purchased the team. Two-time Vezina Award-winning goalie Tim Thomas signed a one-year pact with the Panthers — potentially their biggest signing since the 2011 offseason.

Along with the potential on-ice personnel improvements, a change in ownership gives fans a hope that consistency is at hand. Take a glance at some of the winningest teams in the N.H.L.: the Boston Bruins (owned by Jeremy Jacobs since 1975), the Detroit Red Wings (owned by Mike Ilitch since 1982), the Chicago Blackhawks (owned by the Wirtz family since 1954). Some of the best teams have consistency in their control. The stability of ideology allows teams to create and control an identity and a brand. It’s what every sports team strives toward.

Increased revenue streams would be a boon to the team’s hopes, but more than that, the team needs a trusting and far-sighted owner. Although it is impossible to know absolutely, a first-time owner would seemingly come into the throne with aspirations of impressing and earning the trust of the fan-base.

And Viola has the credentials to impress. Leah McGrath Goodman’s 2011 book The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World’s Oil Market, which focused on NYMEX, said that “he exuded leadership. His personality was amazing. he drew people in. He was a phenomenal speaker. Even if he didn’t know what he was talking about, he sounded like he knew what he was saying. He was an astute businessman and an extreme opportunist.”

Interestingly enough, in 2009, Viola, then a minority owner of the New Jersey Nets, tried to buy out majority owner Bruce Ratner and take control of the franchise. Having the controlling interest in a sports franchise has been a wish of his, and he has now completed it.

Vincent Viola has a chance to bring an era of consistency to the Florida Panthers. It’s no easy task, but it sure would be rewarding.

The Miami Marlins have long had an unearned reputation for being one of the best talent developers in the MLB. In every aspect of talent acquisition—trades, the draft, and international free agency—the Marlins have been rudimentarily futile. And that futility has not depended on general managers and owners. Since the team’s first draft in 1992, the Marlins have been consistently below-average.

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The international market.

Their frugality in the international market has left the team with little presence from outside of the country—where some of the best players are developed and signed.

A little while ago, Yoenis Céspedes sprayed monster home run balls throughout the far reaches of Citi Field at the Home Run Derby. Céspedes, 27, defected from Cuba in the summer of 2011. A free-for-all ensued by awed Major League teams after seeing his dubious YouTube showcase video.  Céspedes wanted to play in Miami, and Miami wanted him.

The Oakland Athletics offered him $36 million over four years, and the Marlins offered him the same amount over six seasons. He signed with Oakland. The Marlins started the 2012 season with Emilio Bonifacio in center field.

A similar story can be told with Aroldis Chapman, another spectacular Cuban defector, who ended up signing with the Cincinnati Reds, who offered $30 million over six years in 2010. The Marlins offered $13 million over five years.

With Miami’s rich Cuban heritage, the importance of Cuban superstars cannot be overstated. Take a look at José Fernández. He was born in Cuba, defected when he was 15, and was drafted 14th overall by the Marlins in 2011. It isn’t only his baseball prowess that has the city of Miami taking notice. It is his eminently relatable story of triumph in escaping the dictatorial regime of Cuba.

In a Grantland.com story, Marlins’ Spanish-language TV broadcaster (and former coach) Cookie Rojas said, “Here in Miami, with a new stadium like this one, with the Cuban fan base, I think it’s important to have a [high-profile] Cuban player.”

Not just Cuban, but all Hispanic players could be attractions in this city almost more than any other. Look at former Marlins Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela), Hanley Ramírez (Dominican Republic), and Mike Lowell (Puerto Rico). Those players, and more, quickly became fan favorites for their roots as much as their talent.

Instead of investing in the foreign market, the Marlins are veering in the opposite direction. In the deal that sent Ricky Nolasco to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Marlins included international signing bonus slot No. 96, valued at $197,000.

Over the 2013 and 2012 international free agency periods, the Marlins have signed none of the top prospects, as ranked by MLB.com. The Marlins are one of eleven teams who did not sign any of the high-ranked foreign players over the last two years; the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed six of the fifty top players in the same period.

While the San Francisco Giants signed center fielder Gustavo Cabrera (Dominican Republic) for $1.3 million and the New York Mets signed shortstop Amed Rosario (Dominican Republic) for $1.75 million in 2012, the Marlins biggest splash was third baseman Alberto Sánchez (Dominican Republic)—who was signed for $85,000. Under the new international spending rules, the Marlins were permitted to spend $3.2 million, and they spent a minuscule amount of that allotment.

According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, “the Marlins have consistently been one of the most frugal teams in the international market.” Despite all of the reasons to spend in the foreign market, the Marlins have consistently strayed from making any kind of splash. As Badler points out, “having a competitive budget to sign international prospects would seem to be an obvious strategy for a relatively minor investment.”

However, an obvious strategy it isn’t for Miami. In 2012, nearly a third of the All-Star-caliber players (using WAR) in the MLB were signed as international free agents. The Marlins have signed only one All-Star-caliber player internationally ever—Miguel Cabrera.

Many of the top players in the league were born internationally, and for teams who are willing to spend on those high-risk players, great rewards can be reaped. As the Marlins have continued to show, they aren’t willing to spend in a prolonged fashion in any sort. Without a change in their approach, they won’t see any extended success.

Sure, giving a 16-year-old Dominican player millions of dollars can be a dangerous investment. But the lack of risk for the Marlins leaves them—of course—a lack of results. Even if some investments are busts, if you get one to hit, the cumulative investment pays off. Some of the best players in the league—Adrían Beltré, Edwin Encarnación, Robinson Canó—were signed as international free agents. There is such a market there, nearly another draft, and the Marlins’ lack of interest in it is malfeasance.

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The draft. 

Drafting is very difficult. Beginning with the inherent randomness, a very low percentage of players who are drafted ever make it to the major leagues.

With all of those difficulties, expansion teams have to tack on their own. For the first three years, expansion teams have to draft at the end of the each round. In addition, their scouting departments have little experience and relationship with each other. So the Marlins (and other expansion teams) get a break for their first few years of drafting. But it never got better.MLB Draft Yield Differential

Now, I would love to blame owner Jeffrey Loria for his penurious style, but in this instance, I cannot. Since the inaugural draft in 1992, the Marlins have been consistently below-average drafters.

Needing a way to quantify this, I separated draftees into three different categories — Successes, Plus-Successes, and Failures. Successes made it to the major leagues and played in at least one game. Plus-Successes played in at least 200 games for position players and 100 games for pitchers. Failures never made it to the major leagues.

The Plus-Successes played a “significant” amount of time on their teams. Placement in that category makes no declaration as to their worth to a team, but simply reflects their amount of time in the major leagues.

The league average percentage of players making it to the major leagues from 1992 to 2009 falls at 12.6%, and the Marlins’ rate falls at 8.05%. (It is difficult to judge drafts after 2009, as not enough time has passed to evaluate.) These four and a half percentage points may not seem significant, but, indeed, they are.

The Marlins drafted 1,043 players between 1992 and 2009. An uptick of 4.55% in yield of players would net them 47 more major leaguers—and that is for only a return to the mean. Other teams who are drafting above the mean are netting even more major leaguers from the draft.

The mean for Plus-Successes in the MLB in that same 17-year span was 5.13%. For the Marlins: 3.16%. That is a difference of 1.97%—21 more “significant” major leaguers via a return to the mean.

This kind of failure at drafting can hamper and has hampered a franchise. But it isn’t so much because of an owner or a general manager. Past the first round, the draft is predominantly controlled by the input of a sizable throng of area scouts, cross checkers, and various scouting heads.

The Marlins’ incompetence has less to do with a certain person than with a complete mindset. It has to do with the inadequacy of the player development and scouting staff. It would be nearly impossible to pin it on one misdeed, but the ineffectiveness is clearly present.

MLB Draft YbY

Breaking down the team’s drafting year-by-year reveals the same incompetence—underperformance of draftees. With the exception of 2002, 2006, and 2008, the Marlins were sub-par. That leaves 14 of the 17 draft years as “bad.” For a team that relies on young talent because of its lack of spending, this uselessness is counter-intuitive and baffling.

MLB Draft YbY

The statistic for the “significant” players tells the same story. Other than 1999, 2002, and 2007, the Marlins were sub-par when it came to drafting players who lasted at the major league level. In 1998, 2008, and 2009, the Marlins returned no players who lasted significantly. A team cannot compete when it is producing zero significant players through the draft.

There is a simple bottom line that is devastating for a team that needs nothing more than for the opposite to be true: the Marlins have always been bad drafters. What makes it worse is the fact that the Marlins have continually been in a position to draft well. They have fielded losing teams for much of the last two decades, which nets them top draft picks. They have not panned out.

By my estimation, the Marlins have drafted four “studs” over these seventeen drafts—Charles Johnson, Josh Beckett, Adrián González, and Josh Johnson. Rational minds can disagree on players like Josh Willingham, Logan Morrison, and Rookie-of-the-Year Chris Coghlan. The point stands. They have not drafted well in terms of quantity or quality.

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The trades.

The Marlins are known throughout the league for trading players once their salaries are deemed too hefty. In a vacuum, this may not be such a bad strategy for a small-market team. Once players reach a point in their career at which they are often overpaid, a team trades them for younger, cheaper talent. If the trade is pulled off correctly, then the small-market team should be paying less for more years of high-quality players.

But the Marlins haven’t pulled off this trade correctly. The trade that epitomizes that trend sent Miguel Cabrera, then 27, and Dontrelle Willis, then 25, to the Detroit Tigers for a package that included two of the top prospects in all of baseball.

Andrew Miller, 22 at the time of the trade, had pitched well in a little more than one season in the minor leagues with the Tigers. The sixth-overall draft pick out of the University of North Carolina had a 2.60 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP over three levels in the minor leagues—respectable numbers. He even pitched in eight games in relief for the Tigers in 2006 and started 13 games in 2007, posting a 5.69 ERA. When the Marlins acquired him, he was the number-10 prospect in all of baseball.

The other big piece was Cameron Maybin, who was just 20 years old at the time of the trade. The tenth-overall draft pick out of T.C. Robertson HS in Asheville, North Carolina had played in 192 games in the minor leagues before the Marlins acquired him. He had an .833 OPS over two years in the minors and was the number-6 prospect in baseball when he made his way to South Florida. Like Miller, he played a little in the majors for Detroit—with a meager .143 batting average over 24 games.

The Marlins also attempted to increase their chances of getting a return by acquiring even more players—Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio de la Cruz, and Mike Rabelo.

While Maybin showed flashes of greatness, Miller never showed any flashes—just futility. Maybin’s highest WAR season was in his final season: 1.1. In three years for the Marlins, he was only a 1.8-win player. Just barely above a replacement player. His final line as a Marlin was .257/.323/.391.

Miller was worse. Pitching in 58 games over three seasons, he had an ERA of 5.89 and a horrendous WHIP of 1.732. In three seasons, he had a WAR of -1.1. He was worse than a replacement player.

Beyond all reason, Badenhop was the best player for the Marlins. Over four seasons, he had a 4.34 ERA and was a 1.9 WAR player. Rabelo and de la Cruz had negligible runs. Trahern never made it to the major leagues.

The trade was horrific. Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald and ESPN calls it “the worst trade in baseball history,” and he might not be far off. Cabrera is still performing for the Tigers at a torrid pace and with no end in sight.

It hurt the team’s progression significantly. If those players had lived up to even some of their potential, the team could have been exceptionally competitive.

Yes, that trade was bad. But let’s take a trip back 15 years to a rather unpopular time in Marlins history—the fire sale. From the championship of 1997 to the end of the 1998 season, the Marlins made 17 trades. They got rid of everybody, from superstars all the way down to nobodies.

One trade in particular gives the Cabrera-Willis deal a run for its money. On May 14, 1998, the Marlins sent Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, and Gary Sheffield to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return, they received Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile.

Piazza played in five games for the Marlins and was spun off to the New York Mets for Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson, and Ed Yarnall. Zeile hung around a little longer, playing in 66 games, but he was traded at the deadline for Daniel DeYoung and José Santos.

Let’s recap. A package that included a then-29-year-old Sheffield—who would go on to play in six All-Star contests, finish in the top three of MVP voting twice, and totaled 40 wins above replacement, plus Johnson, who continued to be an extremely serviceable backstop, and two more aging veterans, netted the Marlins Wilson and four more players that never made it to the major leagues for the Fish.

Wilson, while having an exceptional 2000 campaign, was never an All-Star during his tenure as a Marlin. He never won a Silver Slugger. He never was in the running for MVP.

I believe the issue lies less in the original deal than in the subsequent one involving Piazza. In his next nine seasons, he was a 28.2 WAR player, was elected to seven All-Star games, and won five Silver Slugger awards. The trade of Sheffield for Piazza was far more equitable than the one of Piazza for Wilson.

If one extends the lineage further, Yarnall was later packaged with Mark Johnson and Todd Noel for Mike Lowell prior to the 1999 season. Lowell was inestimably large for the Marlins over his seven seasons. By extension, the Sheffield-Piazza deal is somewhat responsible for Lowell becoming a Marlin.

But the return wasn’t nearly enough. And that is a constant throughout the Marlins’ trading history. This is very often because their trades are driven by monetary concerns—not by true “best-interests-of-the-game” motives.

It’s the aforementioned Sheffield and Cabrera trades. It’s Robb Nen for two minor leaguers and Joe Fontenot, who only played eight games in the majors. It’s Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham for two minor leaguers and Emilio Bonifacio. It’s Carlos Delgado and cash for a minor leaguer, Mike Jacobs, and Yusmeiro Petit.

They are trades that are inexcusably bad. A cycle of producing talent and then trading it for equal talent would allow a team to subsist. The fact is, the returns have not been equal. They have been severely unequal, and slanted in the other team’s direction. That stunts a team’s development.

It is impossible to point to a trade that epitomizes how the Marlins should capitalize on trading their talent.

Possibly their best trade—Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Guillermo Mota to Boston for Jesús Delgado, Harvey García, Hanley Ramírez, and Aníbal Sánchez—is, at best, a push. There is no example of a clear-cut win by the Marlins.

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The leadership.

H. Wayne Huizenga brought the Marlins to South Florida—for that, the community is forever indebted. As well, Huizenga brought the team a championship in 1997—equally indebted.

But his “fire sale” after the 1997 championship began an era of changing leadership.

After he cut assets, John Henry, the current Boston Red Sox owner, purchased the team in the 1998 offseason. He lasted for three seasons, and then sold the team to Jeffrey Loria. Another change in leadership. Leaving at the same time was Dave Dombrowski, the general manager who brought the championship to Miami, and Jim Leyland, the manager who delivered the same honor.

In came Loria, straight from destroying the Montréal Expos franchise. Along with him came his step-son David Samson as team president, the former Expos interim general manager Larry Beinfest, and the former Expos manager Jeff Torborg.

Almost on all fronts, the Marlins changed leadership. Thought processes and systems changed. This was extremely detrimental to their growth.

Since the group took over in 2002, they have had ten managers—almost one per year. This epitomizes their struggle to relate and create a comfortable working environment with the on-field personnel.

Despite the rapid change in managers, Samson and Beinfest have kept their jobs. Despite three last-place finishes, horrid trades, a sub-.500 winning percentage, they still receive paychecks.

Ozzie Guillén did lose his job after a year. His team didn’t play well, but how much of that was his fault?

Joe Girardi, the NL Manager-of-the-Year, lost his job after a year, as well . . .because he didn’t get along with Loria.

Those men weren’t yes-men. They didn’t tell Loria and Beinfest only what they wanted to hear. What the Marlins need more than anything is no more yes-men.

Chuck LaMar, the former general manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, was joined at the hip with former owner Vincent Naimoli. He received two contract extensions and, when he was ultimately fired by new ownership after the 2005 season, he was the fifth-longest-tenured general manager in baseball. He did not cash in on those contract extensions due to his merit. He received them because of his palatability to the volatile owner Naimoli. He was a yes-man when what Tampa Bay needed most was a no-man.

The reason Beinfest and Samson have kept their jobs? Their similar-minded approach to Loria. Just like how LaMar kept his job in Tampa Bay.

From the top down, this franchise is extremely flawed. They aren’t always operating on baseball-related inspiration. They care about money.

And when they make trades based solely on money, they flop.

Over their twenty-year history, when they draft, they flop.

And through their abysmal activity in the international market, they flop.

When things look bright for this franchise, it is only for a brief time. The Marlins do not operate in terms of long-range success. Not in the way they’re presently constructed.

I’ve known Walk the Moon for a while, ever since I first heard “Tightrope” about a year ago. For whatever reason, I just found this track while going back over their eponymous album (which is fantastic).

It takes a little bit for this song to get into its full-fledged awesome, but the whole journey is great. It carries this inertia that just explodes as it reaches its climax. The title, Iscariot, is a biblical reference to Judas — the apostle who betrayed Jesus.

The first verse would be Judas to Jesus:

Until now, I knew this of myself
That if you had thrown yourself down
Into the lion’s den
My brother, I’d follow you in
Perhaps I lack some foresight (Should have known)
Brother, you were so right
Sure as the setting sun
Can’t trust just anyone

He can’t believe his actions, saying that he had always thought that he was loyal to Jesus. And then he shows regret, saying that you were right, you “can’t trust just anyone.”

The rest of the song would be Jesus’s response to the betrayal and the betrayer. My favorite line from that is:

But tell me, are you even aware
That all that we did, you undo
Iscariot, you fool

It’s a very emotional song, clearly, and Walk the Moon plays the heck out of it, with really not very much instrumentation. If you know the rest of their music, you know that they heavily utilize pulsing drums and speedy guitar licks — but not here. This song is cathartic, a great and paced outpouring of emotions.

Check out this live version as well:

Over the N.C.A.A. offseason, rumors swirled that Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel took illicit money in return for signing autographs. But the N.C.A.A. couldn’t prove it. The best they could do was suspend him for a half against the weakling Rice University because he should have known that the memorabilia would have been sold. 

Manziel beat the N.C.A.A., the organization that seemed impervious to defeat. He ended up with almost no penalty when the court of public opinion had already convicted him.

And when he was on the sidelines for the first half of the game against Rice University, the other team let him hear it.

So, when he got in the game in the second half, he jawed back. He mimicked signing an autograph in the air. He rubbed his fingers over some imaginary money. And he pointed at the scoreboard.

According to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Johnny Manziel needs to mature. He writes, “Maybe one day Johnny Football will figure out it isn’t all about him.”

AP Photo/Dave Einsel

AP Photo/Dave Einsel

It isn’t? What about the SportsCenter updates? Why does my phone illuminate with even the most minor updates in his day-to-day life? How come Texas A&M University, with their influx of Johnny-Money, is building a massive new football atrium which will display his Heisman Trophy? Why did the sports world implode with curiosity and passion when the broadcast of last year’s NBA Finals showed Manziel courtside?

Is that why the school’s booster program — the 12th Man Foundation — auctioned off a dinner with him for $20,000? Or is that why his Heisman run created $37 million in media exposure for the University? It must be why the on-campus bookstore sold out of his number 2 jersey.

Because, with the way the world has treated Johnny, it is all about him.

Manziel is a 20-year-old Big Man On Campus, living a life of excess and fun — because why not? If the naysayers are right, that he’s too small for the N.F.L. game, then shouldn’t he live it up while he can?

If you want to tell me that former University of Miami quarterback Gino Torretta didn’t drink and party when he was in Manziel’s position — then you’re wrong.

If you want to tell me that Doug Flutie didn’t do the same for Boston College — you’re also wrong.

Because they’re college kids. Not only college kids, they’re the college kids that everyone knows. That everyone adores. That everyone pays attention to. I’m sure they loved their college experience.

As ESPN’s Wright Thompson puts it, invoking a name of another college football great, “The difference between Joe Montana and Johnny Manziel is us.”

The media didn’t cover Torretta and Flutie and Montana they way the cover Manziel. It was a different time. So the idealized versions of those greats remain.

Sure, Manziel could act more responsibly. He could stay in at night and could act well beyond his age on the field. But do we want that? I for one wouldn’t want an antiseptic star — one who is intentionally boring to offset any kind of drama. At least Manziel is living the life that he wants to live.

And then there’s the irony that ESPN and the other news agencies keep on continuing. While condemning Manziel for a lack of maturity and for an attention-seeking personality, they give him attention. While chastising him for not realizing that it “isn’t all about him,” they write articles and tape segments all about him.

The worst things that Manziel could be convicted of would be partying with the rapper Drake, probably signing some autographs for money, and tweeting that he “can’t wait to leave College Station.”

I can name some college football stars who have committed some worse crimes and who were punished far less by the public.

But because they’re not the Heisman winner, they don’t have to be squeaky clean.

The sports world should be treated like the playground it is, not the cathedral that it is perceived. It is a game, after all.

Maybe it’s not so necessary to moralize the actions of a 20-year-old football star who’s just looking to enjoy life while he can.

As college football’s appeal continues to increase, the NCAA’s popularity is trending downwards — and quickly.

NCAA President Mark Emmert appears on stage during the NCAA's convention keynote luncheon Jan. 16 in Grapevine, Texas.

NCAA President Mark Emmert appears on stage during the NCAA’s convention keynote luncheon Jan. 16 in Grapevine, Texas. (AP)

We just passed the two-year anniversary of the Yahoo! Sports tell-all of Nevin Shapiro, the now-disgraced and now-former University of Miami booster. His allegations included impermissible benefits both routine and debaucherous — from cash and gifts to prostitutes and an abortion.

Now, two years later, the University of Miami is still waiting. Waiting on a punishment. Something to end the years of confusion and angst. But tread carefully NCAA, you’re already in dangerous waters.

If the oft-maligned leaders of college football are punitive on the Hurricanes — who have already self-imposed a ban on two bowl games — school president Donna Shalala is ready to play ball. When the school received its Notice of Allegations in February of this year, Shalala sent out an open letter which listed the repeated failures of the NCAA during their investigation and detailed their plan to respond negatively to the Notice.

“We deeply regret any violations, but we have suffered enough,” Shalala wrote.

Here we are on the precipice of another season, and, still no word from the NCAA.

If only the University of Miami was their only issue. In College Station, Texas, reports have surfaced that Texas A&M University’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel took improper benefits for signing autographs. Problem is, the NCAA can’t find concrete evidence. And Manziel is worth a whole lot: to A&M, the NCAA, and in his parents’ bank account.

And just like Shalala, Manziel is ready to play ball — literally and figuratively. He’s puffing out his chest and spreading his shoulders to the NCAA.

Come on, let’s go. Challenge me. Suspend the player who has proved so valuable. Let’s see what happens.

For anyone who wants to see the NCAA shamed, this is a good situation. In one situation, Manziel gets off because the NCAA can’t find any proof of payment. In the other, he gets suspended. And, rest assured, Manziel and his family will fight it with the lawyers they bring in.

In the first situation, the media will mock the NCAA’s apparent lack of control of players. In the second, well, it could turn messy. And that would be great.

The NCAA has operated dangerously. It overstepped their bounds in the Penn State University case when they levied penalties in an unprecedented manner. Its punitive rules recently forced a women’s golfer at a lower-tier university to repay $20 for washing her car with a hose that was only available for athletes. It also has a corrupted system in which poor athletes don’t have the means to pay for their own meals and can’t afford to pay for their parents and family to attend games.

Now, schools continue to obey the NCAA and players continue to play because, well, what other choice do they have? If you want to play professional football, you have to play in the NCAA first. There isn’t an option; it’s the way it is. For a school to play other high-caliber teams, they must be a part of the NCAA. There is no choice.

That is, unless, a group of schools were to get together and leave the NCAA.

And the SEC, the biggest division in all of college football, has the best opportunity to do so. The conference has athletic directors and players that are infuriated by the NCAA. And they have the money. If they were to leave, it would be the beginning of the end for the NCAA.

But it shouldn’t have to be that way. The NCAA should be able to operate in a fair and equitable manner.

If anyone remembers their days in high school civics class, you will remember “checks and balances” — a governmental manner of separating powers in order to ensure that no branch reigns supreme. Since the NCAA is an autonomous body, they have no checks or balances. They operate on their own accord, in whatever manner suits them best.

In the University of Miami investigation, the NCAA is operating in the name of validating their investigation — and their existence. They need to prove that this was worth more than two years of their time. They are not operating in the name of fairness.

A group of schools leaving the NCAA is a last-ditch effort. The NCAA still has time to right their wrongs — and they can. But they’re not trending that way.

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