Why Texas A&M Should Bench Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel is already a hero to many. He’s the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in college football history. He beat the championship-winning football team in Alabama to become the king of the Texas A&M Aggie nation. Parents across the country want their kids to have that kind of success. But do they want their kids to actually be Johnny Manziel?

Texas A&M is bigger than Johnn Manziel.

Texas A&M is bigger than Johnn Manziel.

Texas A&M is bigger than Johnn Manziel.[/caption]After all, who is Johnny Manziel? Is he a just 20-year-old kid with too much pressure on his shoulders trying to have a good time in college? Is he a sensational athlete given a second chance by an eager coach at the perfect moment in Texas A&M’s history? Is he a well-off, fame-seeking, rule-breaking rebel with a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas? Is he Texas A&M’s hero? Their savior? Their martyr?

Or is he the greatest threat to the future of football at Texas A&M?

For every brilliant play, there’s another picture of Johnny drinking underage. For every touchdown, there’s another stack of Johnny’s numbered autographs. For every trophy, there’s a tweet from Johnny demeaning his school’s name. And now he’s in the middle of an investigation for an autograph scandal that could end his eligibility at Texas A&M or worse.

What, the drinks in the bars and clubs are juice? Or every kid in college drinks underage? Which is worse, sleeping in and missing the Manning QB camp or being in another bed with another co-ed so nobody is there to wake you up? Gambling isn’t illegal at 20 in certain Indian casinos, right? Taking pictures with wads of cash is just something the rich and privileged youth do today; it could be from autograph sales, it could be from Daddy, it could be from grandpa at Christmas, or it could be from the tooth fairy fund from when Johnny was 12 and kept in the pillowcase he took with him to College Station.

I’m not trying to simply berate Johnny Football. I might not like the kid, I don’t even care about the “mutual combat” arrest a year ago. But the last thing I want is for him to miss any football games; we’ve only seen a taste of what he’s capable of on the field, and I want to see how that kind of offense holds up against fundamental football over time.

More importantly, the last thing I want for a program like Texas A&M is to lose their future for betting on a single young man with questionable ethics. That’s exactly what’s at stake here. Make absolutely no mistake, Johnny Manziel is helping to put the entire program at Texas A&M at risk for a long time, and the university itself might be helping.

If you don’t already know the story, Johnny Manziel is alleged with being paid for signing thousands of items including numbered editions of photographs over multiple dates with several professionals across hundreds of miles. For now, we can all argue the NCAA might not be able to do anything and they likely won’t find a money trail, if there is one, that is.

I’m writing this as an Alabama fan, so let me first say I don’t hate Johnny Manziel because he beat Alabama last year on their run to another national championship. I don’t want Manziel to miss the Alabama game this September. I don’t think anybody on Earth really wants that except to say the game would be a much easier win for Alabama without Manziel, but that’s also precisely why we don’t want that to happen. I didn’t want Colt McCoy to get hurt in the Rose Bowl. I didn’t want Cam Newton to lose his eligibility for the Iron Bowl. So when I say Texas A&M shouldn’t play Manziel it’s not because I don’t want him to play. Frankly, I’m upset he was arrogant and selfish enough to put his eligibility at risk more than anything else he’s done.

Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M from Twitter

Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M from Twitter

Texas A&M should bench Johnny Football. Say what you want about taking the high ground here, but the risk is simply too great. A once-elite program with a nuclear-bright future spearheaded by a stellar first year under the SEC umbrella could instead lose bowl eligibility, eliminate recruiting advantages, and relegate itself back to mediocrity. I like to see programs become successful rather than lose it all for a decade or more on a lone player or unattended booster.

First and foremost, any risk of playing Johnny Manziel as an eligibility concern is in Texas A&M’s hands. Simply put, there are no allegations of his eligibility in the games he’s already played. We know the allegations fit a timeline after the last time Manziel played in a game for the university because they begin with the National Championship game in Miami, the last game of the season, long after Manziel’s bowl game victory. If TAMU doesn’t play Manziel in their season opener against Rice, their risk for any infractions is essentially zero no matter what the NCAA does or doesn’t uncover. If even the worst is true and there is proof Manziel was paid to sign thousands of autographs, the university can still preserve its 2012 record and everything thereafter. The Aggies can have a successful long-term future in the SEC, or they can risk the next decade on a single player in the upcoming month.

What’s all this got to do with Alabama? Everything. Alabama has seen less severe allegations be punished as if they were exponentially worse. Like it or not, Alabama has one of the most stringent and effective compliance departments in college sports. It’s not a coincidence, but a necessary side-effect of severe punishment from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Antonio Langham signed a napkin in 1993. Assuming the worst, that napkin netted him $400 and qualified as a contract with an agent. Had he gone pro as he intended at the time of the napkin signing, it would have been completely incidental. It would have meant nothing.

Instead, Langham decided to stay on at Alabama another season, the agent later came forward to get the athlete he said was now his (nearly a year later, right before the SEC title game, no less), and Langham, who had been lying to the University of Alabama, was immediately suspended. Say what you want about $400, but for everyone saying it’s Johnny Manziel’s right to make money off his own name, I doubt any of them are talking about $400.

You know who hates drug tests? Drug users. Nobody else cares. Regarding Cam Newton, Auburn said to the NCAA, “we’ll take your drug test.” They passed, while TAMU and Manziel have separately lawyered-up, autograph agents have publicly said they won’t cooperate with the NCAA’s investigation, and all I can think about is the toilet scene with Lorraine Bracco in “Goodfellas” (ironically one of the autograph agents in the Manziel case has been previously found guilty for dealing illegal drugs). One of the autograph agents even claims to have up to 9 minutes of video evidence including Manziel saying he had taken cash for autographs, but the agent didn’t want to let the video go for free. True or not, these are the kinds of people we’re talking about. Either they’re drinking juicy juice from bottles in bars and clubs while fanning Daddy’s birthday cash, or they’re lying.

I’m certainly not saying Langham’s was a case of innocence. He made a mistake, and it helped cost the program several years of probation, bowl bans, an unprecedented loss of scholarships, and forfeiting all games Langham played in that year. Alabama’s role in this event was much like Texas A&M’s role is now with Manziel, only TAMU has the incredibly fortunate benefit of foresight. Nobody argues for Langham, but a massive chunk of the football world seems to be arguing for Manziel. It took Langham all of two seconds to sign his name that New Year’s Day. It took Manziel dozens of hours in multiple cities to sign just the autographs in the allegations alone. In my work, I’ve done limited edition runs of items I had to number and sign. The most I have ever done is 300. The most I have ever done in one sitting is 100. It’s not easy; it’s a lot of work. It’s not fun; it’s outrageously boring, and I certainly can’t imagine doing it in Miami on vacation when I was a 20-year-old…for free.

So instead, let’s assume the best. Let’s assume Manziel signed thousands of autographs for agents and vendors while on vacation but that he did it all for free. First, I haven’t heard him say that. The fact that he hasn’t said anything about his innocence is annoying at best, damning at worst, but likely incidental since the bottom line is evidence and proof, not guilt or innocence.

However, assuming all the hard work was strictly and completely pro-bono, what about everything else? Drinks, hotels, flights, cars, food, gas, that’s the real trick here, isn’t it? The autographs are incidental if, as I expect, the NCAA can’t find hard proof of payment. Even if he got paid $9,999.99 each time, banks aren’t required to report any deposit or even mark it as suspicious unless it’s over $10,000. But regardless of the payment, now everything else has to be documented and chronicled as being ok by the NCAA. Every stick of gum, every plane trip, every bolt on every rim of Manziel’s Mercedes has to be either proven to be legit or unproven to be from anyone else allegedly profiting from Manziel’s autograph sessions.

Alabama got hammered by the NCAA, fair or not. It cost us a decade of football. The Ohio State University was punished for their proven part in players getting impermissible benefits including cars, tattoos and drugs, and while their punishment by comparison had all the severity of a kitten fart, it literally cost them a national championship last season.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I want Johnny Manziel to play football in 2013 for Texas A&M. But the NCAA has shown that any money in college football is theirs and theirs alone, and when someone else tries to make money from it they don’t just get mad; they get even. For all the hate on the creep that is Cam Newton, Auburn did it right as best as they could. They declared him ineligible; the NCAA had no choice but to reinstate his eligibility because they had no proof of him getting money.

But in Cam Newton’s case the NCAA was so upset by the threat of someone possibly getting away with trying to make money that they immediately created a new rule to prevent exactly what Cam Newton did. They closed the loophole with a new rule on players saying they didn’t know they were being shopped. Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M have no loophole to close. The NCAA isn’t going to stop players from signing autographs, including thousands of numbered editions while on vacation. Auburn at least did something.

For now, Texas A&M has done nothing. While their compliance department looks like an absolute fool for having no idea any of this was going on (so they claim), they still have the ability to prevent a potential disaster solely in their own hands. They could take the risk and lose a season like tOSU, lose an argument like Miami, lose nothing like Kansas State, or lose everything like Alabama.

At best, it’s a roll of the dice trying to figure out what the NCAA will do. And for now, Texas A&M is taking the NCAA up on that gamble.