The entire 2013 offseason has been about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. There was his time at the BCS National Championship Game. His courtside seats at an NBA game. His throwing out first pitches at Major League Baseball games. The Drake concert visit. The Manning Passing Academy drama.
Basically, the list is long, and with each event came more scrutiny, more people lining up either for or against him, a process that has made him the most polarizing figure in college football.
As training camps open all across the nation, Manziel is at it again, only this time his actions could have on-the-field consequences. ESPN has reported that he is under investigation for profiting off his likeness. From the ESPN report:
The NCAA is investigating whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January, "Outside the Lines" has learned. Two sources tell "Outside the Lines" that the Texas A&M quarterback agreed to sign memorabilia in exchange for a five-figure flat fee during his trip to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship. Both sources said they witnessed the signing, though neither saw the actual exchange of money.
College football's governing body is caught between a rock and a hard place. The rumors are strong enough to be investigated, as multiple memorabilia verification services point to the spike in availability of Manziel-signed products. Also there's the alleged "proof picture." These could be an indication that he may have been paid to sign many autographs. However, neither Manziel nor the brokers are likely to make it easy on the NCAA.
For the brokers, even if money changed hands between them and Manziel, this is a deal that has helped them put a plethora of highly desirable Manziel products on the market. That is a win for guys who deal in the memorabilia trade, not a pipeline that the individuals are hoping to close.
Operating within the collectibles market does make the Manziel case similar to Ohio State case, as Barrett Sallee points out at the SEC Blog. However, the major difference is one that will make the NCAA's push quite difficult: There is no FBI investigation to help with the acquisition of information.
Manziel and Texas A&M certainly are putting the onus on the NCAA to acquire that information on its own. Case and point, the Aggies have retained the Birmingham law firm that represented Auburn during the Cam Newton ordeal, USA Today's Dan Wolken tweeted:
Given the NCAA's most recent, high-profile issues with its investigation of the University of Miami program, forcing the organization to prove its work is a solid move. Make the NCAA obtain information. Make the NCAA show proof that money changed hands. Make the NCAA show that violations occurred.
Not that they might have occurred. Not that it seemed like maybe something untoward took place.
No, it will be about proof in this situation and hammering down the evidence needed to render Manziel ineligible. Texas A&M, by letting the quarterback practice and retaining legal protection, is making the first step toward putting the pressure on the NCAA. Unlike North Carolina and Miami in recent years, it seems as though A&M is going to play Johnny Football until it finds out it is no longer allowed to use the quarterback.
It will be interesting to see if Aggies continue to take that stance for their opener against Rice.
As with most polarizing players, Manziel has people following this ruling with bated breath. Many hope that the quarterback gets what they view as his comeuppance, following an offseason of antics. Others hope that Manziel beats the case and gets to continue to dazzle on the football field.
Others will take this moment to point out the inequity surrounding Manziel possibly profiting off his own name and being punished for it, while others continue to profit off his name.
Regardless of how individuals feel about the rule, the case is going to be about whether a violation occurred. Texas A&M is going to fight for Manziel. The Manziel family is going to fight for their son. The brokers are going to fight to remain out of the spotlight. As Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel points out, this certainly is not going to be an open-and-shut case.
The sport's biggest name is under investigation, and this is the first shot at Manziel that could have direct on-field ramifications. As the NCAA tries to build its case, the college football world will wait to see how it all shakes out.