Today ESPN reported that the NCAA is investigating Johnny Manziel for allegedly signing autographs for a Florida autograph dealer. Now the big question is this, can the NCAA prove that Manziel profited off the sale of those autographs?
ESPN reported as follows:
“The NCAA is investigating whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January, “Outside the Lines” has learned. Two sources tell “Outside the Lines” that the Texas A&M quarterback agreed to sign memorabilia in exchange for a five-figure flat fee during his trip to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship. Both sources said they witnessed the signing, though neither saw the actual exchange of money.
Three sources said Manziel signed photographs, footballs, mini football helmets and other items at the request of an autograph broker named Drew Tieman. Two sources, who are aware of the signing arrangement, told “Outside the Lines” that Tieman approached Manziel on Jan. 6, when he landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to attend the game between Alabama and Notre Dame the next day.
After that meeting, three sources said, Manziel, accompanied by his friend and personal assistant Nathan Fitch, visited Tieman’s residence and signed hundreds of items in the main room of the apartment despite the fact that there were many people in the room. Before Manziel left South Florida, after taking in the title game, he signed hundreds of autographs more, one source said.”
The important detail here is that none of ESPN’s sources can prove that Manziel actually received payment for these autographs. Under NCAA rules it isn’t enough for Manziel to have merely signed the autographs. The NCAA must prove that Manziel profited off the sale of his autographs.
The relevant NCAA bylaw that governs this situation is found here:
“220.127.116.11 Advertisements and Promotions After Becoming a Student-Athlete. After becoming a student-athlete, an individual shall not be eligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if the individual: (a) Accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind.”
Now using a student’s likeness to profit is an NCAA violation, but so long as that student doesn’t actually receive anything in return then there is no significant punishment levied by the NCAA. So all Texas A&M would need to do is send a cease and desist to this autograph broker and assert that Manziel received no payment for his autographs. Manziel can argue that he signed the autographs as a gesture of good will — a point hammered home in a recent ESPN profile — and had no idea that his autographs would be sold.
Provided there is no direct evidence to contradict Manziel’s assertion that he wasn’t paid — and if he was paid in cash how could you prove it for sure? — then Manziel’s eligibility would not be impacted.
Interestingly, the offshore line in Alabama — Texas A&M, after sitting at Bama -6.5 for months, suddenly bounced eight days ago, surging to Bama -9.5. That three point line move became news. Appearing on my NBC Radio Show a week ago Saturday, Las Vegas odds expert for Outkick the Coverage, Todd Fuhrman, explained that the only Texas A&M player who could move the line that much was Johnny Manziel. Fuhrman’s suspicion was that something had happened that might impact Manziel.
In the wake of ESPN’s report today that the NCAA has been investigating Manziel since June, that line move makes sense.
Someone was putting money down offshore that Manziel might miss some games.
Only if the NCAA can prove that Manziel profited off the signatures.
And that’s a big if.
If A&M needs a roadmap on how to keep a star player eligible when images of a star player signing autographs that were later sold online surface, they need only look to Alabama, who disputed all suggestions that star players had been paid for autographs by asserting that while players had signed autographs no player had ever been paid for those autographs. Since no one could prove that players had been paid or received any items of value, there was no NCAA violation for signing autographs that were later sold.