A series of memorabilia brokers have not been bashful in admitting they paid Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for his autograph — but that might be because they’ve never heard about an obscure Texas law that could open them up to a lawsuit by the school.
In 1987, the State of Texas passed legislation that could hold the brokers liable for damages suffered by the University if the NCAA rules against the Aggies or Johnny Manziel.
You’ll recall that 1987 was a rather tumultuous time when it came to the NCAA and the institutions of higher learning in the state of Texas. That was the year that SMU received the so-called “death penalty,” and NCAA-mandated canceling of an entire football season as punishment for a culture of lawlessness created by boosters and largely unimpeded by school administration.
Although the legislative history of the law doesn’t mention SMU specifically, it does address the issue of Texas schools suffering from the actions of outside parties.
“More than half the Texas members of the Southwest Conference are either serving some form of NCAA-mandated probation or have been the subject of NCAA investigations during the past year. This situation has resulted, in no small part, from the unrestricted activities of school alumni and boosters.”
Christian Dennie is a lawyer who teaches sports law at a Fort Worth school that on Monday transferred ownership from Texas Wesleyan to Texas A&M, but he would like for it to be clear that he is not speaking on behalf of Texas A&M.
On Thursday he pointed out section 131.004 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which reads as follows:
". . . a person who violates a rule of a national collegiate athletic association adopted by this chapter is liable for damages in an action brought by an institution if (1) the person knew or reasonably should have know that a rule was violated; and (2) the violation of the rule is a contributing factor to disciplinary action taken by the national collegiate athletic association against the institution or a student at the institution.”
Manziel has been accused of violating NCAA amateurism rules by accepting money in exchange for his signature.
So basically if Texas A&M suffers some kind of loss — ticket revenue, merchandise sales, television exposure, a bowl payout — as a result of this autograph scandal, and can convince a court that the autograph brokers knew financial losses were a likely outcome of the sales, it could win a lawsuit to recover those losses from the brokers.
All on account of a law that almost nobody knows about.
"I would probably lend a guess that 99 percent of lawyers in the state of Texas don’t even know the statute exists," Dennie told FOXSports.com.
This is mainly because, in the statute’s 26 years, it has never been used as the basis for a lawsuit.
"Generally," Dennie said, "institutions don’t like to be involved in litigation."
Another hangup that Texas A&M could face is that the brokers in question aren’t from Texas — meaning the school would have to demonstrate some kind of a connection to the state. That wouldn’t likely be difficult, because that connection could be anything from merchandise sales in the state of Texas to attendance at a game to something as simple as a phone call to Manziel. But it would be a hoop to jump through nonetheless.
So what you have here is a Texas law that could, as an unintended consequence, impede the NCAA’s ability to investigate Manziel’s connection to autograph brokers.