"More trouble for JFF! Accused of receiving $ for autographs!"My first thought was "Here we go again". There has been a TON of off-season scuttlebutt following Johnny (that I haven't documented but are documented ad nauseum everywhere else) but none of it was actually serious - just over sensationalized by the media in the lulls of the offseason. But after doing some initial reading, I realized that this might have some teeth.
I remembered that back in the spring this exact same topic had been brought up in the media so I had no doubt that the autographs were real. My question was, "Did he get paid?" or maybe a bit more honestly, "Will they be able to prove he got paid?"
The topic resurfaced because of report by Darren Rovell (who is probably most famous for this fine bit of journalism), that ran on ESPN. The story basically said that Johnny signed a lot of autographs for a memorabelia dealer that have been authenticated and are being sold on the internet and the NCAA was investigating Johnny. But *shockingly*the unnamed sources saw Johnny at the signing....but no one saw any financial transaction.
This, broke the night before fall camp opens.
All of this coming on the heels of this week's Sports Illustrated:
A&M has brought in Birmingham law firm Lightfoot, Franklin and White to handle the situation on their end, and Johnny's family has lawyered up as well. Lightfoot is basically the top NCAA compliance law firm in the country and handled the Cam Newton case a few years back.
So the next question becomes, "If there isn't resolution in the next 22 days, will we play him to start the season and risk having the results of those games stripped from us?"
My initial thought was, heck yeah, play him and win those games - particularly the 'Bama game - and make a run at an SEC title. In 5 years....10 years....20 years no one will remember. They'll remember the experience, the highlights and the images of the games.
Then I started to think a little more. I'd definitely go that route if I thought he would get through the entire season before a ruling was handed down but.....
What if he doesn't? What if they come to a conclusion soon or even during the season? Even if the NCAA is able to prove that Johnny did get paid, the suspension could very easily be just a handful of games. The Ohio State players from the tattoo scandal got 4 games each.
If that was the case, we would be punished in the polls and standings immediately, rather than retroactively, and wouldn't even get a chance to play for the SEC title.
It'll be really interesting to see how Sumlin and the school handles this. The Cam Newton situation was different because the accusations didn't come to light until mid-season so they were already on the hook.
I think it is also important to keep in mind that is not a recruiting violation they're investigating. It's not even a situation of an alum or booster paying him. This is Johnny, on his own, maybe making money by signing his name for someone else.
Another aspect of this that I find interesting is that everyone I talk to about this, regardless of their rooting interests, are disappointed simply because they want to see him play (more specifically, they want to see him play against 'Bama). Because this isn't a recruiting issue or a booster issue it is being viewed less as cheating and more as a casualty of a rule that was already widely considered dumb and hypocritical.
The NCAA has been getting more and more heat about it's rules regarding athletes getting compensated. They are coming off of the recent EA SPORTS NCAA FOOTBALL video game lawsuits. If they drop the hammer on Johnny, the currently loud minority will grow significantly into a majority. The governing body - the NCAA - might not survive and this could ultimately be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Interestingly enough, until a day or two ago, the NCAA's own website would pull up player related merchandise when certain player's names were entered into the search function. For example, if you typed in "Manziel" it would bring up an A&M jersey with a #2 on it. Johnny isn't allowed to sell his own name but they can use it to sell their gear.
Obviously they've been making money hand-over-foot for their on-field product thanks to the players, so this is small beans but it is an absolutely PERFECT (and very specific) example of them profiting off of the players. I'm sure that Johnny's lawyers took notice.
Some A&M fans have taken it upon themselves to do some research on authenticated player signatures and have found pretty interesting stuff (here). This doesn't appear to be a "Johnny Problem", this is a "College Football Problem".
I really hope this all doesn't blow up on A&M but if it does, Johnny brought it upon himself - he knew the rules, as dumb as they may be, and life will go on. I'll still be standing at the top of Kyle Field every weekend. Shoot, I survived the Fran-era, I can survive anything.
Holy cow I can't wait for the season to actually start.