Johnny Manziel will return to a football field this evening when he and his Texas A&M teammates hold their first practice hours after an ESPN report that could threaten the Heisman Trophy winner’s eligibility.
In the latest and by far most serious report concerning the off-the-field activities of Johnny Football, the NCAA is investigating whether Manziel received money for autographing hundreds of photos, footballs, helmets and other memorabilia in January. ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” citing two sources, reports that Manziel received a “five-figure flat fee” from autograph broker Drew Tieman while he was in Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship. Both sources told ESPN they saw him signing but not receiving money.
ESPN’s Joe Schad also reported that an unidentified broker, based in the Southeast, said that Manziel’s personal assistant, Nate Fitch, told him last season that Manziel would no longer be signing autographs for him without compensation.
Manziel could not be reached for comment by ESPN and he is not expected to speak at media day today.
The NCAA 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.”
Coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters today that he would speak to Manziel this afternoon and that the university is doing due diligence to investigate the report. “In the last 24 hours, we’ve become aware of that situation and we will deal with it.”
Although this is likely to rekindle debate about whether college athletes should be paid, Manziel isn’t the best poster child for the movement. He has been a magnet for criticism throughout the offseason, tweeting about being eager to leave College Station, crashing a University of Texas party and having to leave the Manning Passing Academy early. In a press conference, he vowed not to change his behavior, reminding everyone that he’s only 20. Shortly after that, his father said in an ESPN profile of his son: “Yeah, it could come unraveled. And when it does, it’s gonna be bad. Real bad.”