Former Miami star Jones: NCAA 'a joke'

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
5:45
PM ET
Do you have an opinion about Johnny Manziel? I'm guessing you do. I don't. I mean, I've read the canonical Wright Thompson work on Johnny Football and "Uncle" Nate Fitch. The former seems like an immature and overwhelmed college sophomore, the latter like a hilarious early 20s mogul poseur not dissimilar from the kind of scene kids who say they can get you into all the cool clubs. Everyone knows these guys; the only difference is one of them won the Heisman Trophy last winter.

[+] EnlargeStewart Cooper and Daniel Bolick
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireFormer Miami guard Dequan Jones served a 10-game suspension doled out by the NCAA.
Sure, it does seem like Manziel signed a lot of autographs in the past 12 months at roughly the same time his camp (even his dad) has been grousing about the essential financial exploitation of college athletics. And yes, the fact the NCAA tried to thread some weird needle by suspending Manziel for exactly one half of football (he received no money, but allowed his likeness to be commercialized, or something -- I give up) is Hall of Fame-level hilarity. But short of my not-even-half-baked dream theory that Manziel intentionally trolled the NCAA on some next-level stunt ... I can't force myself to care about the saga of Johnny Football. I'm sorry. I just can't. Your mileage, etc.

Former Miami basketball star Dequan Jones does not share my dispassion.

Quite the contrary: Jones, who was suspended by the NCAA for the first 10 games of his senior season while the NCAA conducted its horrifically botched Nevin Shapiro inquiry, took to Twitter to express his view on Manziel's seemingly special treatment. The result:

Jones' situation is not perfectly analogous with Manziel's, and those differences go beyond the ones Jones cited. (I'd also add "fame" to that equation.) Manziel was essentially accused of accepting money from outside parties to sign a bunch of autographs at one time, profiting off his image away from the game. Jones was the center of an accusation that a coach (Miami's Frank Haith) knew about a $10,000 payment to Jones' family allegedly made to ensure Jones' signing with the Hurricanes. The NCAA is cool with neither, to be sure, but they aren't the same thing in the rulebook or in the larger optical discussion of the NCAA's crumbling future. An amateur making money from third parties in exchange for the use of his image, or the "Olympic model," is the trendy, acceptable third way forward for college sports. Boosters dropping envelopes of cash on players' families "Blue Chips"-style is not an outcome even the most ardent anti-amateurism supporters seem interested in.

Even so, you can understand Jones' frustration. He missed a whopping 10 games in his last year of college basketball in 2011-12, never totally got his season on track and missed the NCAA tournament as a result. (The team that followed in 2012-13 won the outright ACC regular-season title, earned a No. 2 seed, allowed Julian Gamble to photobomb his way into our hearts and gave us one of the greatest gifs in world history. Ultimately, the NCAA found no evidence against Jones much the same way it found no evidence against Manziel. But Jones didn't get to miss a half of basketball against Rice, or whomever. He'll never get those 10 games back.

Ten years ago, the story here would have been that a former college athlete openly ripped the NCAA at all; that didn't use to happen quite so much, and at such volume. In 2013, in the Ed O'Bannon v. NCAA era, it seems like the norm. The real takeaway here is that even among people who intimately understand the NCAA's philosophy and enforcement principles, the rules and their applications often feel drastically arbitrary -- or worse.

What was Jerry Tarkanian's old saying? The NCAA was so mad at Johnny Manziel it will probably slap a couple more years probation on Dequan Jones? It went something like that.

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