by George Schroeder, USA TODAY Sports
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be suspended for the first half of the Aggies' season-opening game against Rice on Saturday for an "inadvertent violation" of NCAA rules regarding autograph signing, a school official confirmed to USA TODAY Sports.
A&M senior associate athletic director Jason Cook told USA TODAY Sports both the school and the NCAA found "there is no evidence Manziel received monetary reward in exchange for autographs."
But the NCAA and the school agreed that student-athletes should know that when signing numerous autographs in one sitting, such autographs are likely to be sold for commercial purposes.
Texas A&M and the NCAA agreed on the suspension, Cook said. He said the investigation is considered to be closed.
A&M declared Manziel ineligible Wednesday. In addition to the half-game suspension, in order to be reinstated he must address the team regarding lessons learned. Texas A&M will revise its educational process regarding signing autographs for individuals with multiple items. The NCAA accepted those conditions, the school said, based on currently available information and Manziel's testimony in an interview with investigators.
Texas A&M Athletics Director Eric Hyman said in a statement, "Texas A&M University would like to thank the NCAA staff, not only for its fairness and professionalism throughout this process, but also for the expediency of its actions. Texas A&M is a proud member of the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference and, as such, we will continue to abide by the rules governing the association and the conference. Texas A&M is committed to competing with integrity and sportsmanship, and we will continue to ensure strict compliance guidelines for our student-athletes, coaches and supporters."
In addition, Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs said, "Student-athletes are often asked for autographs from fans, but unfortunately, some individuals' sole motivation in seeking an autograph is for resale. It is important that schools are cognizant and educate student-athletes about situations in which there is a strong likelihood that the autograph seeker plans to resell the items."
Manziel's immediate future has been uncertain since ESPN's Outside the Lines reported three weeks ago that he had been paid a "five figure flat fee" by Florida sports memorabilia collector Drew Tieman for signing autographs last January, during Manziel's visit to the site of the 2013 BCS Championship game. Subsequent allegations have been made by other autograph dealers to ESPN. NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124 prohibits players from accepting money for promotion or sale of a product or service.
Citing a person familiar with the investigation, ESPN reported Monday night that NCAA investigators "spent a large chunk of Sunday" questioning Manziel on the allegations.
Manziel has been practicing with the Aggies. Although practices are closed, indications are Texas A&M has prepared as though he would start against Rice.
Monday evening, the school released a statement from athletics director Eric Hyman about Manziel.
"The focus of our coaches and student-athletes is solely on preparing for Rice this Saturday, and in the best interests of Texas A&M and the 100-plus student-athletes on the team, I have instructed Coach Sumlin, his staff and our student-athletes to refrain from commenting on or answering questions regarding the status of our starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel," the statement read.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin declined to address the topic in interviews this week. Players followed suit.
Manziel has not spoken to the media since the initial news reports. His family also has declined interviews with USA TODAY Sports and other news organizations.
Jim Darnell, an attorney retained by the Manziel family in July, before the allegations were made public, told USA TODAY Sports he didn't believe Manziel would miss any playing time. "I think when all this comes out on the other end, he'll be the starting quarterback for the Aggies against Rice."
Texas A&M retained the firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White. The firm, based in Birmingham, previously represented Auburn during the 2010 season, when allegations swirled about quarterback Cam Newton's eligibility. Newton never sat out any games during the investigation into allegations that his father had sought payment from Mississippi State to deliver his son to that school.
On Aug. 5, the day after the allegations were first reported, Hyman told USA TODAY Sports the school would "do the due diligence, just get an understanding," but added that given the hype over Manziel's offseason, the school was trying "to judge how much traction this has."
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