Unlike the college athletes that it puts under the microscope for rules that often make little sense, the NCAA can't seem to get out of its own way.

The NCAA is investigating whether Texas A&M's star quarterback, Johnny Manziel, sold his autographs and merchandise. That would violate NCAA rules.

That rule makes some sense because precluding that activity also preserves a level playing field in recruiting athletes. Allowing merchandising agreements for individual athletes would badly skew recruiting. It doesn't take much imagination to envision win-at-all-costs programs wooing high school stars by ensuring them that the fan base could generate more autograph revenue than a competing school's fan base. It would be an arms race beyond what exists now.

The NCAA should allow student-athletes to be compensated and should set flat rates. It should handle the distribution itself, through assessments on member institutions, with wealthy big-time schools subsidizing the stipends at smaller institutions, and through dedicated portions of the billions of dollars of television revenue that it and conferences collect.

Meanwhile, the NCAA's enforcement effort would be more convincing if it didn't try so hard to generate profit for itself from athletes. A class-action suit by former athletes already is under way for the NCAA's alleged use of their images in highly profitable video games.

And ESPN basketball commentator Jay Bilas, a former basketball star at Duke, noted that the NCAA is investigating Manziel even while his replica jersey has been sold through an online shopping site affiliated with the NCAA.

The organization clearly needs to find ways to produce some economic justice for athletes in exchange for the billions of dollars that they generate for their universities and for the NCAA.