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NCAA Has Long List Of Headaches As Football Season Starts


The college football season kicked off with several games last night, and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel will be back in action tomorrow, but not until the second half of Texas A&M's game against Rice. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now to discuss the week in higher education. Hi, Stefan.


SIEGEL: Johnny Manziel was suspended by the NCAA this week for half a game. What did he do, and why half a game of all things?

FATSIS: Well, ESPN reported that Johnny Football, as he's known, was paid five figures by autograph dealers to sign thousands of photos and memorabilia which college amateurs aren't supposed to do. Manziel denied it. The NCAA said it found no evidence. So it sanctioned him for signing stuff that he should have known would be sold. Regardless of what you think of Manziel, who's had other off-field issues, or whether you think college athletes should be paid, this silly half-game suspension, which pales, by the way, against what other athletes have gotten, once again exposes the absurdity of NCAA enforcement. A cynic might also note that the NCAA and Texas A&M themselves have used Manziel's name, likeness, jersey and signature to make money.

SIEGEL: To make money. Manziel's spot as media darling seems to have been taken over by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina. Tell us about him.

FATSIS: Yeah. Clowney has become a sort of Paul Bunyan figure since he made this tackle in a bowl game last January that knocked the helmet off of a Michigan player. Last night, in number six, South Carolina's 27-10 win over North Carolina, he wasn't quite so dominant - no sacks, just three tackles. His coach, Steve Spurrier, called him out for inadequate conditioning. It's always nice when a coach throws a player under the bus. Clowney shrugged it off. He said it was only the first game.

SIEGEL: Elsewhere last night in a game against Mississippi, a player for Vanderbilt hit his head on the field and then immediately vomited. Tell us about what happened next.

FATSIS: Well, vomiting is a common indicator of a possible concussion, as ESPN's announcers immediately and correctly noted. The player, an All-American wide receiver named Jordan Matthews, was crunched on - after making a catch. His head whiplashed and hit the ground. He vomited on the field, and he came back in after being looked at by trainers after just one play. Now, after the game, Matthews said he had been removed earlier because of cramps. He had gotten an IV and other fluids, and he said that's why he vomited. That's possible, but regardless, one play isn't nearly long enough to evaluate whether someone has had a serious head injury.

SIEGEL: Now, that happened just a few hours after the National Football League agreed to a $765 million settlement of claims with former players over concussions and head trauma. The NCAA also has legal issues there.

FATSIS: Yeah. The NCAA is being sued by former athletes who argue that it was slow to adopt concussion policies, like when you can return to play, and when it finally did, failed to enforce them. Lawyers this month asked a judge in Chicago to certify a class action that would include thousands of plaintiffs. Now, the legal and factual issues are very different from the NFL case, but the question is whether the NCAA will also settle here. I wouldn't be surprised. But if they do, let's not forget, regardless of their size, legal settlements won't eliminate brain injuries in football.

SIEGEL: Finally, Alabama enters the season ranked number one, and many people think they'll end the season ranked number one. What's so good about Alabama?

FATSIS: Well, look, if they do win it again, that will be four championships in five seasons, three in a row. Why they're so good? Well, for some insight, read Warren St. John's profile for GQ magazine of Alabama coach Nick Saban. It describes a pathologically driven man whose ceaseless preparation and work, what he calls the process, has led to all of those titles. He is a weird character but certainly responsible in large part for Alabama's success.

SIEGEL: OK, Stefan. Have a great weekend.

FATSIS: You too, Robert.

SIEGEL: Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, who talks with us Fridays about sports and the business of sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.