If you’ve been watching the World Series on Fox you may have been surprised by what you saw on the screen. No, I’m not referring to the outstanding defensive plays turned in by players on both teams, or the Kansas City Royals’ shutdown bullpen in the late innings. Based on the pre-series scouting reports those are things we should have expected. What was unexpected was seeing Mo’ne Davis starring in her very own Chevy commercial.
The 13-year-old Davis took the nation by storm with her talent and personality during the Little League World Series which was broadcast live on ESPN in August. After leading her Philadelphia Taney Dragons team to Williamsport, Davis appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated which certainly increased her exposure and no doubt spurred higher magazine sales. It comes as no surprise that Chevrolet would want to recruit the girl-wonder to help them sell automobiles even though she’s too young to drive one.
The biggest surprise was that the NCAA blessed Davis’ participation in the commercial by issuing a written statement in advance of its airing. Even though Mo’ne was being compensated for her role, the NCAA said it would not affect her eligibility to play college sports. Say what? The NCAA has never before countenanced profiting from your name or likeness. Such action violates one of the pillars upon which the organization’s claim of amateurism rests. Nonetheless, the NCAA’s statement tried to rationalize this seeming contradiction.
“The NCAA staff’s decision was made based on a combination of considerations. This waiver narrowly extends the rules which allow Davis to accept the payment and still be eligible in any other sport to include baseball. The NCAA staff also considered the historically limited opportunities for women to participate in professional baseball. In addition, Davis is much younger than when the vast majority of the prospect rules apply. While this situation is unusual, the flexible approach utilized in this decision is not.”
Flexibility isn’t a concept normally associated with NCAA decision making and until now it was thought the word had been expunged from all dictionaries available at the governing body’s Indianapolis headquarters. But there it is, in the last line of the statement. The NCAA even suggests that the approach taken in Davis’ case is standard operating procedure, saying the “flexible” approach is not unusual. That’s akin to Stalin rewriting the history of Europe.
Parsing the statement further, the NCAA suggests that the flexibility applied to the Davis case was based on the historically limited opportunities for women to participate in professional baseball and the fact that Davis is much younger than when the vast majority of the prospect rules apply. If I understand the message being sent by the NCAA, if you’re female, which means you have limited opportunities to participate in professional baseball, and you’re younger, although exactly how young is left to the reader’s interpretation, the NCAA rulebook won’t apply to you.
I suspect the exception made for Davis provides little comfort to University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley. Gurley was recently suspended indefinitely for signing autographs, or profiting from his name or likeness, similar to what Mo’ne is doing in the Chevy ad. But Gurley isn’t a girl, presumably has more opportunities in professional baseball than Davis does by virtue of the fact that he is male and his violation did not occur when he was younger or at least, as young as Mo’ne is.
Like Gurley, former Texas A & M quarterback Johnny Manziel was investigated last year when reports surfaced that he had received money for signing autographs. Texas A & M reached an agreement with the NCAA for Manziel to sit out the first half of the school’s 2013 season opening game against Rice, even though there was no finding that Manziel did anything wrong. Only in the NCAA universe are players suspended for doing nothing wrong.
We can sum up these three situations thusly. Mo’ne can sell her likeness and still remain college eligible because she’s young and female, but Gurley and Manziel can’t do likewise without suffering consequences because they’re older and male. The only aspect of those decisions that makes sense is allowing Davis to profit off her likeness, just like everyone else, including ESPN, SI, Fox, and Chevrolet, does.