It turns out the Oklahoma Sooners aren’t the only outfit Johnny Football can embarrass. On Wednesday, Texas A&M and the NCAA announced the Aggies’ Heisman-winning quarterback would be suspended for the first half of Saturday’s season-opener against Rice.
It’s about the lightest penalty you can hand down other than some post-practice bear crawls, but in this case it’s appropriate. The Ags could’ve taken a hardline stance and not agreed to this punishment, but they’re ready to put this behind them and focus on a national title…and making more money off Johnny.
In the aftermath of ESPN’s reports that Manziel had accepted cash for signing thousands of items, it became clear the NCAA didn’t have the requisite proof to make anything stick. The organization is already under fire for many reasons, including its mishandling of the Miami scandal, and it was highly unlikely it was going to bench the face of college football.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t going to stress over losing his starting quarterback for a half against an overmatched team. In fact, he and some of his players are probably fine to see Manziel receive a little punishment after his tumultuous offseason. Manziel became an unwitting symbol of the NCAA’s hypocrisy as the organization advertised his jerseys on its web site even while investigating him. The NCAA and A&M agreed to the one-half suspension against Rice because Manziel violated an NCAA bylaw that states that student-athletes can’t permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes. But the NCAA also made it clear it didn’t have the goods on Manziel:
“If additional information comes to light, the NCAA will review and consider if further action is appropriate,” the NCAA said in the joint statement. “NCAA rules are clear that student-athletes may not accept money for items they sign, and based on information provided by Manziel, that did not happen in this case.”
Manziel will also have to address his teammates about the lessons he learned from the situation. Perhaps he will advise them not to interact with seedy autograph brokers who might be secretly filming their meetings. Manziel has proved time and time again that he doesn’t always use the best judgment off the field. But the NCAA is obviously taking his word over the autograph brokers in the absence of a money trail.
Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant lost the majority of his final season at Oklahoma State because he got nervous and lied to the NCAA about having lunch with Deion Sanders. The harsh punishment he received is even more laughable in light of how the NCAA treated Cam Newton and now Manziel. If only Bryant had been the quarterback of an SEC team.
Meanwhile, A&M chancellor John Sharp decided not to gloat too much over the ruling. He had recently declared Manziel completely innocent, which was an indication that Texas A&M wasn’t worried about a long suspension.
“I am proud of the way both Coach [Kevin] Sumlin and Johnny handled this situation with integrity and honesty,” Sharp said in the statement. “We all take the Aggie Code of Honor very seriously, and there is no evidence that either the university or Johnny violated that code.”
I think Sharp can spare us the “Code of Honor” talk right now. Both the university and Manziel ‘lawyered up,’ and they reached a favorable outcome. To suggest there’s such thing as honor in big-time college athletics is a pretty big stretch.
And this is not a “win-win” situation for the Aggies and the NCAA, as Manziel’s attorney suggested in an interview with ESPN on Wednesday. This is a knockout punch for the Aggies. They stared down an organization becoming weaker by the day…and won.
Johnny Football will jog onto the field to start the third quarter at Kyle Field on Saturday to a standing ovation. For once though, the punishment actually fits the crime.
Now, the NCAA can return to other pursuits, such as questioning the eligibility of former U.S. Marines who participate in intramurals.