Earlier this year, Texas A&M's two Heisman Trophy winners, Johnny Manziel and John David Crow, autographed six helmets together. The helmets were auctioned off by various Aggie alumni groups throughout the state of Texas and combined fetched a tidy sum of $81,600, which helped subsidize several A&M scholarships.
So Johnny Manziel's signature was readily able to help pay the bills for other current and future Aggie students, but if it were used to line his own pockets (an allegation that is currently being investigated by the NCAA), Manziel would be risking his eligibility.
And therein lies the most egregious affront to common sense in the NCAA manual (a bible of egregious affronts to common sense, by the way) -- of all things that should be yours, your goddamn name, even that is owned by the NCAA.
It's a stupid rule, but it is, for now, a rule. Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M may find this out the hard way.
Sunday afternoon, allegations surfaced in an ESPN.com piece by Darren Rovell that Manziel, A&M's mercurial Heisman Trophy winner/party animal/social media tour de force, shortly after he deplaned in Miami before the BCS title game in January, was paid a five-figure sum by an autograph broker named Drew Tieman to sign around 1,600 pieces of memorabilia, much of it numbered, which indicates an effort to authenticate it for resale.
It is absolutely worth noting that the "sources" in Rovell's piece claim that they saw Manziel sign the pieces, but did not see the exchange of money. That still needs to be proven, and while Manziel's status as a current student-athlete means he is obligated to turn over things like bank statements and the like to NCAA investigators, with Manziel the forensics of examining such information is harder than it sounds.
You see, Manziel comes from some serious money. His grandfather was an oil mogul, and his parents are a) quite business-savvy and b) very skeptical of the NCAA machine. My point in bringing up Manziel's family background is twofold:
1. If Manziel were to get paid as princely a sum as is alleged -- and I know this sounds very basic -- wouldn't it be easier to camouflage that money in the fabric of Manziel's finances than, say, those of a kid coming from an underprivileged, single-parent home, where a five-figure payment would be the only five-figure deposit on the kid's or the family's ledger, maybe ever?
2. And if Manziel needed his parents to be complicit in the receipt of such a payment, my hunch is they would be. We are talking about parents who openly commented to an ESPN columnist about their disdain for the system and their trepidation about the school's "having the best interest" of their son in mind in a detailed profile piece. Hell, boiled down to the simplest fiscal level, we are talking about parents who set up an LLC and trademarked their son's nickname, "Johnny Football." The Manziels are not business simpletons; they know how the deal works.
In short, even if Manziel did get paid, good luck with the NCAA being the group to somehow parse out the evidence and discover the smoking gun. Cecil Newton had his son practically uploaded to eBay with a "Buy It Now" for $180,000, and last I checked, Auburn still has its 2010 BCS title.
You've seen the ESPN footage of the authorities scuba diving in that lake to look for the Aaron Hernandez murder weapon? Well, imagine those guys, but with cinder blocks tied to each ankle.
That's the NCAA.
The rule Manziel allegedly may have violated, NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206 -- "accepting money for promoting or advertising the commercial sale of a product or service" -- is one that numbs the mind if you're into a free-market economy. Literally everybody except the athlete is able to profit off of the athlete's likeness, name and signature. Its logic (or lack thereof) is at the core of the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit that threatens to rock the very foundation upon which the NCAA's fiscal model and non-taxable status rests.
Why shouldn't Johnny Manziel be able to pick up money for his signature? Answer me that.
Yes, I understand the exposure to big-money alums "overpaying" for autographs as a means to siphon additional funds their way. At the very least, I say the NCAA can find a way to manage the process to where they and the player can both benefit from things like memorabilia sales, jersey sales and video games, and at the same time, mitigate abuse of the system.
Now, the stupidity of the bylaw doesn't eliminate its existence, unfortunately, and when the rules exist, they need to be followed. Johnny Manziel knows the rules. He needs to follow them.
If we assume, at the very least, that it's true that he did sign these items for Tieman, then one of the following occurred:
1. Johnny Manziel signed these 1,600 items and received money, a direct violation of the NCAA rulebook.
2. Johnny Manziel signed these 1,600 items and received no money.
The former makes him the worst kind of teammate -- a selfish jerk who put his teammates, his coaches and the school in harm's way for a few bucks when, let's face it, he's one of the last guys who need a few bucks. The only time it's wrong to go get yours is when it's against the rules to go get yours.
The latter makes him perhaps the nicest guy in the world. Like certifiably nice. Like unbelievably nice, and I don't use "unbelievable" to express magnitude, I use it literally -- I don't believe it. I don't believe Johnny Manziel is that nice.
Unless he was somehow duped into thinking the 1,600 items were signed for charity (again, not very believable), I don't know which of the two scenarios above seems more outlandish.
Unless you're trying to get caught (and honestly, after reading Wright Thompson's article last week, is anything out of play?) so that you can just get the hell out of the College Station fishbowl and not take any more hits in the pocket for no pay, how does someone sign 1,600 items in 2013, get paid for it and think it will never come to light?
Conversely, who signs 1,600 items for anybody for free?
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Until the calendar flipped to July, most of the Johnny Experience had been fairly benign -- NBA tickets, spring break photos, the occasional narcissistic tweet. No big deal.
But in the last three weeks, we've had Johnny's
hungover exodus from the Manning Passing Academy, the aforementioned Thompson article that exposed the family's disgust with A&M and concern for their son's self-destructive ways, and now these autograph allegations.
Life was so much simpler on the front row of NBA Playoff games.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.