DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, college football fans, it is time to get out your body paint and those foam fingers. The NCAA Division One football season is starting tonight with 17 games on the schedule. Most of the heavyweights start their campaigns on Saturday, and that includes top-ranked Alabama. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me to preview the new season. And Tom, are you excited?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Sure. Are you?
GREENE: Absolutely. Well, baseball has to end and then I'll turn my attention to football. But before we get to the actual season, I want to ask you about some news about college football's, really the player of the moment, the Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. Texas A&M quarterback with all this talk about a possible suspension for maybe getting paid to sign autographs. And good news for Aggie fans yesterday.
GOLDMAN: Yes. Texas A&M and the NCAA agreed they had no evidence that Johnny Manziel took any money for those autographs. But they also agreed there was a minor violation. Basically they're saying Manziel should have known the autographs he was signing would be resold for profit and he should have stopped that. So Manziel was given a truly weird punishment. He was suspended for the first half of Saturday's opening game versus Rice.
GREENE: A half a game? That's like a - well, not even a slap on the wrist. A pat on the wrist.
GOLDMAN: Thirty minutes, David. Thirty minutes. That's a tap on the wrist.
GOLDMAN: I asked both the NCAA and Texas A&M why a half, not a whole game or multiple games or nothing? Neither would say why, so we're left to wonder how he gets a 30 minute punishment and how another player, current Dallas Cowboy star Dez Bryant, was banned 10 games when he played at Oklahoma State for lying about having a meal with former NFL star Deion Sanders, a meal that wasn't a violation of the rules. Go figure.
GREENE: Go figure. Is it a bad sign that we're talking about, you know, these off the field issues like whether players and college are really amateurs, whether they're getting paid for things? I mean here it comes again.
GOLDMAN: Here it comes again. Well, amateurism certainly is a challenge to maintain when big-time college football is awash in billions of dollars and it goes everywhere except to the athletes who play the games that make the money. A reader on deadspin.com noted yesterday the NCAA rule Manziel apparently violated that requires student athletes to take steps to stop others from making money off them, the reader writes: Well, if that's the case, shouldn't every student athlete be suspended for not taking the appropriate steps to stop the NCAA from profiting off all these kids?
GREENE: Well, let's not let talk of suspensions ruin the tailgate party. There's going to be football.
GOLDMAN: Of course.
GREENE: And all the talk is about Alabama, the Crimson Tide. We're going to be hearing people singing "Roll, Tide, Roll" all year, probably.
GOLDMAN: Absolutely. Alabama has won the last two BCS titles, trying to become the first team to win three straight national championships. And Alabama is pretty close to the same team that destroyed Notre Dame 42-14 in last season's title game, with quarterback A.J. McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon, and a defense that returns eight of 11 starters from a unit that led the nation in allowing the fewest points per game last season.
GREENE: They're stacked.
GOLDMAN: They're stacked.
GREENE: Are there other contenders out there?
GOLDMAN: Oh, sure. South Carolina, which plays tonight with fearsome defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and two really good quaterbacks. Look out west to Oregon and Stanford in the Pac 12. The Ducks, of course, with their high octane offense. They lost their offensive mastermind, head coach Chip Kelly, to the NFL, but they still have a great offense. And then Stanford. An awesome defense. And quarterback Kevin Hogan was very good as a freshman last season; he'll be even better this year.
GREENE: And this is the last year of the so-called Bowl Championship series. After this season we're finally going to get a playoff in NCAA college football.
GOLDMAN: One more year to complain about the BCS, but let me tell you, when we get a playoff the year after, there's going to be lots of complaining still.
GREENE: All right. The complaining never ends. Except when I'm on the line with you, Tom Goldman. It's always a pleasure.
GOLDMAN: Thanks, David.
GREENE: Sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
This is NPR News.
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