USA Today Sports
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel's future college eligibility could be in question following an ESPN Outside The Linesreport Sunday that the Texas A&M quarterback accepted thousands of dollars for signing memorabilia earlier this year.
The report says Manziel agreed to a "five-figure flat fee" with an autograph broker named Drew Tieman for signing memorabilia during Manziel's visit to the site of the 2013 BCS Championship game in January. The report cites two witnesses saying they saw Manziel sign the products but did not see money exchange hands.
Outside The Lines reported that Tieman had met Manziel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and that Manziel and friend Nathan Fitch signed the items at Tieman's apartment. The report also cites a person as saying that Manziel signed hundreds more autographs at a later time after leaving Florida.
NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199 prohibits student-athletes from accepting money for promotion or sale of a product or service, and the act of doing so can affect an athlete's amateur status and eligibility to compete in NCAA athletics. Outside The Lines cited a person as saying that NCAA assistant director of enforcement James Garland has begun an inquiry.
There are examples in recent college football history of trading memorabilia for cash or other benefits. In 2010 former Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was suspended four games by the NCAA for selling his 2009 Independence Bowl jersey for $1,000. In 2004, former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith -- who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy two years later -- was suspended for two games for accepting $500 from a Buckeyes booster. In the most prominent and widest recent example, six Ohio State players were suspended for part of the 2011 or 2012 seasons for selling memorabilia or exchanging it for benefits such as tattoos.
Though the allegations against Manziel would appear to be an NCAA violation, the situation highlights an ongoing issue on college athletics: the fact that athletes cannot glean any extra benefit from their likeness or accomplishments, but those around them can. For example, a Texas A&M memorabilia dealer and clothier, Aggieland Outfitters, raised $18,000 for scholarships earlier this year by auctioning a helmet autographed by Manziel.
Such conflicting rules and messages underlie the Ed O'Bannon likeness suit against the NCAA, Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Company.