Johnny Manziel wasn't the only star player in Miami during last year's BCS National Championship, as he was flanked by other award winners like Mississippi State's Jonathan Banks, teammate Luke Joeckel and USC's Marqise Lee.
While the NCAA handled some damning evidence and allegations of Manziel signing memorabilia for pay on that trip, USC investigated Lee for similar charges. But according to USA Today's Daniel Uthman, its internal report has cleared him of any infractions.
Dave Roberts, USC's Vice President of Athletic Compliance, said the following:
USC recently received an inquiry that floated Marqise Lee's name and the autograph signing situation in Miami that has been in the news lately. As is USC's policy, USC immediately and diligently investigated the inquiry.
Last January, Marqise and other college football award winners were in Miami to be honored by the Orange Bowl Committee at the BCS Championship Game. While there, Lee signed several photographs, some that were personalized, for an individual who represented himself as a fan and collector. Some of those photos have since been offered for sale online.
USC has determined there was no NCAA infraction and is in the process of sending a cease-and-desist letter to the individual demanding that he stop selling any photos signed by Lee.
Lee issued a statement of his own, saying that there was no payment involved:
I believed that the individual who asked me to sign the photos was a fan and collector. I did not ask to be paid, I was not offered anything, I did not get anything and I did not authorize my autographs to be sold.
So basically, both USC and Lee himself admit to the act of signing memorabilia. That's perfectly legal. The problem would come if money exchanged hands or Lee somehow profited off of his name—which both parties vehemently deny. He says he had no idea his autograph would be sold.
This is different than the Manziel case because Lee, unlike Johnny Football, doesn't appear to have witnesses alleging he took money. His denial of that fact doesn't come opposed by another party, so his claims in the statement above are likely to be accepted as truth.
But still, almost all the other evidence appears similar to what Manziel is facing. It would be hard to punish or suspend the reigning Heisman winner on the sole basis of second-hand conjecture. If the NCAA doesn't investigate further into Lee, it will be interesting to see how that affects Manziel—not that USC fans care.
For them, this news is merely a relief, a sign that their best player—2012's Biletnikoff winner as the top receiver in college football—committed no infraction. If things continue in this direction (knock on wood), his status this season will never be in doubt.
That could mean trouble for the rest of the Pac-12.
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