Column: Why wouldn't Johnny Football play?

Published Aug. 28, 2013 4:37 a.m. ET

Of course Johnny Football is going to play Saturday against Rice.

Why wouldn't he?

He's being investigated by the NCAA, not NCIS. Cam Newton got away from those gumshoes with more than enough time to cram in an eventful final season at Auburn. So did Terrelle Pryor, even after his coach at the time, Ohio State's Jim Tressell, knew he'd broken plenty of rules. And look how both of those distinguished alumni turned out: making real money in the NFL, instead of the chump change their former classmates with degrees have to settle for now.

Besides, Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp has already cleared Manziel. That was in an email he sent around to friends of the program last week - before admitting he never spoke to Manziel about allegations that he'd exchanged autographs for cash.

''Don't have to. I don't have to hear from him,'' Sharp breezily told a local TV station in College Station that asked about the email.

Right. Because who bothers with hard evidence when half-cocked intuition will do?

''I don't have to hear from him,'' Sharp repeated for emphasis. ''I can hear from his original accusers and what they're saying now.''


Whether or not the NCAA consulted those original accusers, they had enough questions to grill Manziel for six hours during a Sunday meeting. According to, Manziel denied ever asking for, or receiving, any cash.

I suppose someone with faith in the wholesome enterprise that is big-time college sports could sign 4,400 footballs, photos, mini-helmets and whatever else you can find for sale on e-bay over the span of a month and convince themselves they were all headed for kids or charities. It was possible to believe that about Tim Tebow, for instance, when he was at Florida. But not Johnny Football.

One glance at a profile of Manziel in ESPN The Magazine reveals a kid on the verge of turning 21 who is much more interested in the luxe life than campus life. It's not the money he's after, per se, since Manziel grew up in a family that always had plenty. He loves the celebrity that comes with being a college star, but chafes at the restraints.

Even so, it's hard not to root for Manziel and against the NCAA, if only because everyone else in the game is already on the take: the coaches, athletic departments, universities and their TV enablers. Like Newton and Pryor, who actually could have used - in NCAA parlance - the ''improper'' or ''impermissible'' benefits being thrown around, Manziel figured out how to game the system, too. And just like them he'll probably flee to the pros before the NCAA enforcers can drop the velvet hammer on his school.

Yet everyone at A&M, from coach Kevin Sumlin on to chancellor Sharp, knows how much value Manziel brought to the table last season, and how much more he's likely to create this one - even if someday A&M is ordered to hand some of it back. That's why they began calculating the risks since the allegations first surfaced in early August and almost certainly signed on to go ahead and play Manziel.

We say ''almost certainly'' because a gag order issued by athletics director Kevin Hyman earlier in the week instructed everyone associated with the program, including ''our student-athletes to refrain from commenting on or answering questions regarding the status of our starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel.''

(Wait. Did Hyman call Manziel ''our starting quarterback?'' Slip of the tongue? OK, never mind.)

At least one report quoted an unnamed NCAA source saying the organization would render a decision in the case Wednesday. Given the foot-dragging in the NCAA's botched investigation into a pay-for-play scheme at Miami, that would be unusually swift. Then again, considering how well lawyered up both Manziel and the school are - A&M retained Lightfoot, Franklin and White, from Birmingham, Ala., the same firm that got Newton off the hook when pay-for-play allegations surfaced - it likely means investigators lack either the resources or stomach to pursue the matter much further.

That sounds just about right. The college season kicks off the next day with North Carolina at South Carolina, and by then everyone needs to be focused on the real reason the games are played - to turn a hefty profit for everyone involved save the kids who actually play them.

Whoever said cheaters never prosper apparently didn't follow college football. It happens all the time.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) and follow him at .