Looks like Rumors and Rants can no longer lay claim to breaking “the” Johnny Manziel story of the summer. Our report of the Heisman winner being sent home from the Manning Passing Academy last month has metastasized into a portal to another dimension of coverage that seemed to peak when Manziel was featured in ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated cover stories this week.
Now it has ratcheted up yet another notch.
ESPN reported Sunday that the NCAA is investigating whether Manziel accepted a “five-figure” deal from a South Florida memorabilia dealer in exchange for hundreds of autographed items. If the NCAA can prove its case, Manziel’s eligibility would be affected for the upcoming season.
The story alleges that an autograph broker named Drew Tiernan stole a move out of the pedophile playbook, approaching Manziel at the Fort Lauderdale airport when he arrived prior to attending the BCS national championship game. Rather than offering Manziel candy from a conversion van with tinted windows, Tiernan apparently proposed money in exchange for autographs.
Sources told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that they saw Manziel signing “hundreds” of autographs in Tiernan’s presence, though they did not witness any money being exchanged.
Ultimately, the NCAA will have to prove that Manziel did get paid, which is something it could not do when allegations came that Cam Newton’s father received money for his son to attend Auburn in 2010. All they ever proved was that the elder Newton attempted to get $200,000 from Mississippi State boosters in exchange for Cam’s enrollment.
The amusing aspect to all this is that NFL executives are probably more concerned over the questions about Manziel’s maturity off the field than whether he accepted money for his own autograph.
Frankly, with his family’s bankroll, they could probably afford the kind of lawyers that are good enough to challenge the NCAA’s rule that a player cannot profit off his own signature — should the allegations be true, of course. I think most people would be rooting for the Manziels to win such a lawsuit if it ever came to fruition.
But my guess is this will never be proven. Most wealthy folks either got or stayed that way in due part to an ability to do some creative accounting, whether that involves bank accounts in the Caymans or more ethically ambiguous means. So even if this is true, I can’t imagine a paper trail will be easy to find. As bold as this Tiernan character appears to be, surely he wasn’t foolish enough to make a transaction obvious. Then again, maybe stupidity is a necessary ingredient of boldness.
Love or despise Johnny Football and his storylines, one refrain has been repeated all summer: “Enough of this crap! Just let the season start already!”
Now we may have to wait and see whether Manziel’s season will start at all.