Big man on campus isn't on campus

Things have been a bit boring at the intersection of Catholicism and sports recently. After the Notre Dame debacle in the national championship game and subsequent revelation of Manti Te'o's having been duped online, the storylines seemed played out.[caption id="attachment_23390" align="alignright" width="300"] Both spend a lot of time online[/caption]But yesterday's news unveiled another kind of online deception at the heart of college football. According to intrepid reporting by Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News, Johnny Manziel, the Heisman trophy winner who beat out Manti Te'o, is enrolled only in online courses this semester. What's more, all the courses appear to be in his major, "sports management." (As still a freshman, he must have sailed quickly through the general education requirements.)

It just happened to work out where it was good after the football season with all of the stuff going on, Manziel said at the Fort Worth Club on Monday. He was there to accept the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback.It was a good time to not have to worry about being on campus and some other things, too.

Yes, there is a lot of stuff that goes on in the classroom. Some of it is even worth worrying about. Let's hear more from the new poster child for online education about his one day in a bricks-and-mortar English class:

I went one day it was a small class of 20 or 25 and it kind of turned into more of a big deal than I thought, Manziel said of the fuss surrounding his presence. The (athletic department) did a good job of saying, 'Let us know if you need anything and we'll figure it all out,' but (by then) I had all online classes, so we didn't need that.

I am guessing that the novelty for the rest of the students would have died down by the next week of class, just as it does for every other college class in the country in which a famous person has enrolled. For all the talk of "overcoming adversity" in sports, one day in freshman English class was just too overwhelming for this tough Texas kid.Notre Dame proudly boasted the # 1 graduation rate for student-athletes in the country. Its students still take their required philosophy and theology courses the old-fashioned way -- in actual classrooms! With ancient texts! With professors! But at Texas A&M, the big man on campus is not even an on-campus student.At least when Notre Dame's arch-rival Southern Cal played fast and loose with the "student" part of "student-athlete," it did so with more advanced students. Matt Leinart was already a 5th-year senior in 2005 when he was permitted to enroll in just one course for his eligibility -- a ballroom dancing class with his girlfriend.Maybe I'm looking at this uncharitably, though. With growing concern about all the bodily contact experienced by football players, perhaps it's best for football players to stay away from the classroom. Education is a contact sport too. And actual contact with teachers and peers can be jarring -- like a liberal arts education ought to be. 

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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