If Texas A&M were weighing right and wrong, then it probably would already know what to do with Johnny Manziel. No, this is starting to look like it’s more about risk and reward.
So let me just start by saying this: Now that we’re up to six alleged autograph-signing sessions for pay, should Johnny play?
No. A&M should sit Manziel down for the first two games of the season. And I believe it will. Don’t play him. Don’t suit him up. Just have him sit up in the press box next to me, eating hot dogs. I’ll get the mustard.
Look, Manziel either took money for signing autographs or he didn’t. Presumably someone from A&M has asked him which one it is. So A&M either has to trust the word of this increasingly untrustworthy player or bank on the idea the NCAA doesn’t have the wherewithal to go after him or the ability to prove it.
There is a certain calculus involved in A&M’s decision. It’s about whether a shot at a national championship is worth the risk of the potential probation that could come for using a player who might be ruled ineligible.
Keep in mind that under NCAA rules a player is ineligible from the moment he breaks those rules, not the moment the NCAA reports on it. So if Manziel plays, then the NCAA takes him down, A&M will suddenly be part of the mess, having used an ineligible player.
At this point, A&M is amazingly clear of the fray. All of the allegations against Manziel are for things that took place after last season. If that’s the case, then A&M hasn’t yet used an ineligible player. So at this point, all this just between Manziel and the NCAA.
I have to say my first thought was that it’s worth the risk. Texas A&M is trying to build facilities and raise money, and there’s nothing like a championship run to make donors happy. The Aggies could just play him now and hope he’s not found guilty, or figure that penalties suffered later won’t wipe away the benefits of a title run.
Plus, the NCAA is so weakened now, after it botched the Miami investigation. Is it really in position to get Manziel?
Michael Buckner, a Florida attorney who has worked several NCAA cases, said it might be a mistake to underestimate the NCAA. This, he said, might be exactly the case the NCAA is looking for. It’s a high-profile chance to show it still can conduct a thorough and timely investigation and mete out justice.
He suggests A&M not play Manziel, and says Ohio State and Miami both proactively suspended players while awaiting NCAA decisions.
But what about the math? What about risk/reward? What about the blown chance to win the national championship if Manziel doesn’t play? If you play him and then he’s found guilty, your chance to win a title is gone. But if you don’t play him at all, then it’s gone, too.
Texas A&M is not going to win the title without him.
At the very least, Buckner said, A&M should sit Manziel for the first two games, against Rice and Sam Houston State. It should win those games without him, and holding him out would buy two more weeks for the NCAA to complete its investigation. On top of that, Buckner said, if Manziel is suspended and A&M can lawyer it down to a two-game punishment, then those two games will count as time served.
The real decision date here is Sept. 14, for the third game: Alabama at Texas A&M. That’s when a real title run starts.
But what can the NCAA do anyway? Autograph brokers run a cash business, so the paper trail isn’t easy to find. And even in case Manziel is alleged — by ESPN — to have signed for money, no one has actually claimed to have seen a broker give money to Manziel. There is no smoking gun.
The brokers, presumably, are talking to ESPN because Manziel’s dad once said the autographs sold on eBay are fakes. That put the brokers in position to have to defend the product they were selling. They don’t need the NCAA for that.
All this could leave the NCAA out in the cold. But Jo Potuto, former chair of the NCAA infractions committee, told me the NCAA does have some power, even if it doesn’t have subpoena power.
All NCAA athletes, she said, sign a contract saying they will fully cooperate with any investigations. So, she said, the NCAA can compel Manziel to turn over his bank and phone records, not to mention tax records, if it can show reason to believe they could help the investigation.
For example: Say Manziel is alleged to have signed in a hotel for $10,000. If the NCAA can verify that he was at that hotel, then it can look into his bank records to see whether he deposited $10,000 into his checking account.
If so, he’ll have explaining to do. It would have been incredibly stupid for Manziel to have done that, rather than have his friend and business manager put the money in his own account. But, if allegations are true, who knows what he did?
In the end, I think A&M will sit Manziel for now. And if things aren’t resolved by the Alabama game, then that might be the time to take the chance and play him.
At that point, the reward, I think, would be worth the risk.