Heisman by Name or by Nature?

by JDCam 12.19.14

The Heisman trophy was awarded to Marcus Mariota of Oregon on Saturday. You will find no arguments here. This year’s finalists were truly an outstanding class, with Mariota beating out standout RB Melvin Gordon and explosive WR Amari Cooper. Looking at the numbers from the three candidates puts into perspective just how outstanding a class of a Heisman finalist class we witnessed in 2014.

This year Mariota completed 68% of his passes for 3783 yards and only 2 INTs. He also ran for 669 yards and another 14 scores. Mariota’s decision making and efficiency were perhaps the most impressive aspects of his season. His ADJ QBR of 91.9 indicative of a truly remarkable season, compounded by his 5TD personal demolition of Arizona in the PAC12 Championship game.

Mariota

Meanwhile, in Madison, WI, Melvin Gordon was having a historic season of his own. He ran for 2336 yards (including 408 against Nebraska) and 26TD on the season, for a remarkable 7.6 yard average with an offensive line who Ohio State proved, were overrated. Gordon also showed an improvement in the passing game, catching 17 passes for another 151 yards and 3 more scores, which bodes well for the future NFL back. Gordon had a legitimate chance to catch Barry Sanders all-time NCAA rushing record of 2628 yards until he was stumped by the Buckeyes in The BIG10 Championship game, essentially ending his Heisman hopes.

Finally there is Cooper. The 20 year old who does not possess prototypical elite receiver size but had an incredible 2014 all the same. Cooper had 115 REC on the year for 1656 yards and 14 TDs at an average of 14.4 yards per catch. Cooper’s impact was significantly more than his numbers suggest however, as the attention he drew from opposing defenses created oceans of space for Alabama’s other wideouts.

How the Winner is Selected

The thing that stands out about all three finalists this year is actually not their incredible play on the field, but their outstanding excellence of character off it. Examining the mission statement of the Heisman trust is a fascinating process and one that is indicative of just how out of touch some of the 900 odd Heisman voters are with the given guidelines for selection. The mission statement of the Heisman offers that;

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

Really Heisman Trust? Really? I have to confess pure ignorance to the character based elements of the Heisman selection process. Silly me, here I was thinking that the Heisman trophy was simply awarded to the player with the best total QBR in college football. ‘Excellence with integrity’ are certainly words that jump off the page here.

The attention on Manziel was equally split between on the field brilliance and off the field concerns during his time at Texas A&M

The attention on Manziel was equally split between on the field brilliance and off the field concerns during his time at Texas A&M

The previous two winners of the Heisman prior to Mariota were Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel. Those are two names that scream integrity. Manziel in his time at college station gained a reputation for his exciting seat of your pants style on the field and countless controversies off it. In 2013 he underwent an NCAA investigation for receiving payments for his autograph. Manziel also shoved a graduate student assistant in March after throwing a pick in practice before his infamous ‘shit like tonight is a reason why I can’t wait to leave College Station (the shit, incidentally, was a parking ticket). Johnny Football is hardly the yardstick of integrity. While his every move is magnified and analyzed through a lens not of his own choosing he has always come across as cocky and entitled, not a player who exemplifies the Russell Wilson-esque ‘first in the building last to leave’ mentality.

Jameis Winston’s college career to date has been even more questionable around the Heisman value of integrity. A few of Winston’s lowlights to date include;

  • A sexual assault allegation originally filed in 2012. The NY Times later report irregularities in the investigation into Winston’s conduct, intimating that the Tallahassee police dept. never interviewed or obtained a DNA sample from Winston despite evidence consistent with a sexual assault in which the victim named him as her attacker.
  • Winston and a teammate were held by campus police for bring a BB gun onto campus and firing it…albeit at squirrels.
  • Winston has had two shoplifting incidents, one at a local Burger King and another, the infamous ‘crab-leg’ incident which led to a brief suspension during baseball season.
  • His vulgar ‘fu*k her right in the p**sy’ exclamation while standing in the FSU student union.
Jameis WInston has been consistently embroiled in off the field controversy at Florida State

Jameis WInston has been consistently embroiled in off the field controversy at Florida State

Are Manziel and Winston really the two players in their respective winning years that best exemplify a blend of outstanding performance on the field and excellence of character off it?

To be clear here, I’m not calling Manziel or Winston bad people, criminals are anything else akin to either of those statements. I am calling into question how much integrity plays a role in the Heisman voting. Let’s just be honest here, it does not. Maybe it’s time to change the mission statement! Hell, I don’t care if the winner has no integrity, but then let’s not specify integrity as a qualifier for the award in the mission statement. Let’s call the award what it is, the College Football MVP. That’s fine. The Heisman has outgrown its mission statement. In this age of social media, where the stakes in college football, athletics and professional sports are higher than ever (and by takes I mean financial implications), excellence of character and integrity, sadly, has very little place in sports, particularly in college football where athletes are at their youngest and can potentially be under the most pressure relative to their ability to deal with it. That Marcus Mariota won the Heisman this year was wonderful, for himself, Oregon, Hawaii and athletes of exemplary character. Sadly, it was purely coincidence, as the only real qualifier here was his truly outstanding play on the field.

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