A The future of Johnny Manziel's football season for Texas A&M will soon
come down to a one-sentence bylaw, divided into three sections.
The bylaw, 220.127.116.11, states that student-athletes cannot permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products, or accept payment for the use of their names or likenesses. While many of the facts about Manziel's alleged autograph sale remain unknown, several experts weighed in on how the NCAA might act within its bylaws.
John Infante, a former compliance officer at NCAA Division I schools and author of the Bylaw Blog, said Manziel would be breaking the rules even if he signed the autographs for free with the knowledge that they would be sold for a profit, or if his friend profited and he did not. However, the punishment in those cases would be much less.
"That's still a violation if he knows it's going on sale, and could cause him to be ruled ineligible, but it's typically a 'don't do this again' and he'd be reinstated without penalty," Infante said.
He said if the NCAA cannot prove he received money, it could rule him ineligible and then immediately reinstate him, similar to its action against Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in 2011. He did say there could be a small suspension if Manziel was found to be repeatedly signing things that he knew others would profit from.
Infante said the NCAA doesn't write out specific penalties for violating the bylaws. Instead, punishments tend to be written out in the student-athlete reinstatement guidelines. He said the NCAA will likely consider precedence and the totality of the circumstances, such as whether Manziel made a profit, whether he did it repeatedly and all circumstances of any evidence the NCAA finds.
As for precedence, Infante said the NCAA typically considers the amount of money in question. For a profit of less than $300, he said, students will typically see no suspension and be ordered to repay the money. For up to $500, athletes may be suspended for 10 percent of the season, or one-to-two games, and could be suspended for 30 percent of the season for receiving more than $1,000.
"It's not just about the amount of money they receive -- if you go well above the scale, like this mythical five-figure payoff would be, then you might be getting into things like half the season or a full season before being reinstated," Infante said.
In bylaw 18.104.22.168, "Responsibility of a Coach," Infante said Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin is presumed to be responsible for the actions of his assistant coaches who report to him, and for promoting an atmosphere of compliance within the program.
The head coach would be held responsible for violations committed by his staff, but not student-athletes. Infante said a student-athlete can be held responsible under the law if he or she was acting as a staff member by recruiting, but in most cases the head coach would not be held responsible for student infractions.
Rick Karcher, a professor at the Center of Law and Sports for the Florida Coastal School of Law, said the issue will be what powers the NCAA has or doesn't have to coordinate its investigation.
"If he received money, hands-down that violates the provision," Karcher said. "The real question then is the NCAA doesn't have the ability to subpoena witnesses and they're not in a court of law, so the player doesn't have the due process protections as if they were in a court setting."
He said the investigation does not fall in the NCAA compliance and enforcement division and would instead be a matter of student-athlete reinstatement. He said Manziel would be able to appeal if an investigation finds that he did knowingly sell his autograph for money.
"It's impossible to say what's ultimately going to happen," Karcher said.
If a violation is found that would deem him ineligible, Infante said, then the case would be sent to student-athlete reinstatement, and a different NCAA staff will decide wither Manziel could be reinstated and under what conditions. That staff's decision can be appealed to the committee on infractions.
Richard G. Johnson, a lawyer who has represented student-athletes in lawsuits against the NCAA, said Manziel's situation sheds a light on the issue of student-athletes' amateurism status. The bylaw Manziel allegedly violated states that, upon becoming a student-athlete, an individual is not eligible for commercial compensation for his likeness or name.
"The NCAA wants to make money, and if we allow the kids to make money, they can't control the cash flow of college sports," Johnson said. "Amateurism isn't defined by money, it's defined by ideals."
Johnson said Manziel is in the position to challenge the amateurism status that prohibits student-athletes from making money off their names and likenesses. He said Manziel's name recognition and prestige, as well as the potential damages that would come from being ruled ineligible, would be enough for Manziel to hire a big-name lawyer to challenge the NCAA's rule.
"What you have to understand is, the underlying story is who gets the money -- there's a huge amount of money out there, and Texas A&M wants money and the SEC wants the money," Johnson said. "This is all about those entities keeping the money."
The NCAA did not return requests for clarification on its bylaws.
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