News Column

A&M Gathering Facts on Johnny Manziel

August 8, 2013

Coach Kevin Sumlin has promised Texas A&M University will do its "due diligence in finding out the facts" regarding an NCAA investigation into quarterback Johnny Manziel, prompting the question: What does that mean?

"Separating fact from fiction," A&M associate athletic director Jason Cook explained Wednesday. "Looking into the allegations that have been made."

The allegations from multiple autograph brokers, according to ESPN, are that Manziel accepted payments for autographs, and one of the network's reporters, Joe Schad, said he watched a secretly recorded video of Manziel signing helmets for a broker in Connecticut. All of the reports cite no evidence of an actual exchange of money.

A&M and its compliance department is, according to officials, conducting its own examination into the accusations, and Cook was asked Wednesday how the university would react if improprieties by Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, were discovered through its own search.

"We're not in a position to speculate on what may or may not happen, given that Texas A&M is still in the fact-finding stage," Cook responded via email. "We certainly understand the significant interest with the start of the season on Aug. 31."

The Aggies kick off their most anticipated season in history at high noon that day against Rice, following an 11-2 finish in their first year in the Southeastern Conference.

Sumlin has said he won't speculate if he'll play Manziel in the opener if the NCAA investigation is ongoing.

An NCAA bylaw states a student-athlete accepting money for promoting or advertising the commercial sale of a product or service could result in his or her ineligibility. Manziel, who has practiced over the first three days of camp, has not been made available to the media this week.

In January, A&M released a study that Manziel's Heisman victory "translated into $37 million in media exposure for Texas A&M."

Cook attended the university's annual licensing review with the Collegiate Licensing Co. on Tuesday in Atlanta, and said A&M's licensing program generated more than $3.9 million in gross royalties for the fiscal year 2012-13, a 22 percent increase compared to the year before.

The fiscal year 2011-12 -- long before Manziel was named starter -- marked a 23 percent increase compared to the fiscal year prior, however, so A&M officials emphasize the notion the Heisman triumph is not most responsible for such a burst in A&M exposure -- and profits.

"There are a whole lot of factors involved, but the move to the SEC, in my opinion, is the primary reason for driving our increases," said Shane Hinckley, A&M's interim vice president for marketing and communications. "The Heisman gives us a bump, definitely ... and a winning athletic team always impacts your royalties, but it's not always the primary reason.

"The move to the SEC is the absolute driver, along with the success of the football team and the Heisman."

So what happens if the NCAA or even A&M find improprieties involving Manziel? A couple of more recent examples might provide a clue.

Then-Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four teammates were suspended the first five games of the 2011 season for selling jerseys, title rings and other memorabilia, and for receiving improper benefits from a tattoo parlor. (Pryor turned pro prior to serving the suspension.)

In 2010, Georgia receiver A.J. Green was suspended the first four games of the season for selling an Independence Bowl jersey he wore against the Aggies at the conclusion of the prior season, for $1,000 to a collector in North Carolina.

A&M, of course, is hoping its brightest football star in history is cleared, and the Aggies and two-time defending national champion Alabama collide at full throttle Sept. 14 at Kyle Field. If not? Hinckley said A&M was on the rise before Manziel, and will be on the rise following his exit, whenever that might be.

"Von Miller has gone to the pros, but we're still selling Texas A&M merchandise," Hinckley said of the star linebacker who won the coveted Butkus Award in 2010. "It's about the brand. ... We've had some great players here through the years, they've moved on the pros, and we're still growing our brand."

Meanwhile, a broker told CBSSports.com why some of his peers might have come forward anonymously to ESPN with alleged Manziel autograph tales, even though such a move wouldn't appear to benefit them or their industry.

"When his family filed to (trademark) 'Johnny Football,' all of us dealers, and I'm talking like 500 of us, had items on eBay related to Johnny Manziel," broker Rob Rudolph told the website of the Manziels' actions in February. "They weren't necessarily signed by him. I had Heisman programs from where he won the Heisman. ... eBay swiped across the country and took all of those items down. They banned everyone who had done it for two weeks. No prior warning or nothing.

"... They said, 'This is a legal thing and you violated a legal code so you're suspended for two weeks.' ... That was an irritating thing because for two weeks, I couldn't sell anything. I'm quite sure for people whose livelihoods are this business, that was crippling.

"If there's anybody who has an ax to grind, pick any of those people."

However, A&M and the NCAA lack subpoena power, so they can't force any of the autograph dealers to cooperate.

Also, they can demand access to Manziel's bank accounts, but that wouldn't disclose cash payments. Nor can investigators rummage freely through the complex finances of Manziel's oil-rich family.

A&M has hired the law firm that Auburn used to keep Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton eligible. The NCAA wasn't able to establish that Newton had anything to do with his father's widely reported efforts to shop his son's talents after Newton completed junior college.

bzwerneman@express-news.net

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