Late Monday night, ESPN reported that Johnny Manziel met with NCAA investigators for six hours. Tuesday morning, CBS reported that Manziel denied receiving payment for signing any autographs. Monday evening, A&M announced that no coach or player would comment on Manziel's status in advance of Saturday's season opener against Rice.
With all of this news breaking within a few hours, it appears that a resolution of this case could be nearing. (Of course, it's the NCAA, so a resolution of this case could also come in 2017.)
My position remains the same it has since this story broke -- I believe Johnny Manziel was probably paid for signing autographs, but I also think the NCAA will have a hard time proving that this is true. Absent solid proof of payment, Manziel will play.
So now that he's spoken to the NCAA for six hours and denied receiving any payment for his autographs, what happens?
As the situation remains fluid, let me reiterate an idea that I floated in the mailbag on Friday: Why don't A&M and the NCAA compromise and agree to sit Manziel out for one or two games?
Neither side would have to admit any wrongdoing; rather all concerned should admit that Manziel had a lapse in judgment when he agreed to sign this many autographs for a broker and that he should have known this volume of autographs would be put up for sale. This could well be a violation of NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199 . Manziel maintains he wasn't paid but should have known his autographs would enter the stream of commerce, the NCAA accepts the penalty as sufficient, and Texas A&M has their Heisman trophy winner for the games that matter.
Every group is satisfied by this compromise.
Here's why. The NCAA, Texas A&M, and Manziel are in a tough spot. The NCAA has no political power to spare right now and doesn't need to sit out a top player for violating a rule that most fans feel is absurd. This could help kill the NCAA.
A&M doesn't need to risk an entire season on whether something might be uncovered about Manziel's signing autographs since not only could A&M's season be vacated, the NCAA could come down hard with probation in years to come. (Although most A&M fans probably believe the Aggies should roll the dice, Auburn style, because the championship payoff is worth the risk).
Finally, Johnny Manziel is under a great deal of stress and probably wants to put his entire offseason behind him rather than having eligibility questions hang over his head all season.
So why not agree to a compromise that satisfies the needs all parties?
Manziel sits for a game or two and the story is over. A&M can beat both Rice and Sam Houston State without its star quarterback, so the practical on-field impact is negligible. (Unless there's an issue with timing and repetitions before Manziel plays Alabama. I can see both sides here, however, since Manziel could also be injured in either game. At absolute worst you'd have a 100 percent healthy Johnny Manziel for the biggest game in Aggie history).
Remember that in the Cam Newton case, Cam was declared ineligible for 24 hours before then being declared eligible again. This was the NCAA's paper-thin cover for a mess of an investigation. It was a compromise of sorts, Auburn's black ops NCAA crew outsmarted the NCAA and found a loophole in existing NCAA rules.
Could A&M do the same?
Let's dive into the five most important questions being raised at this point:
1. What evidence does the NCAA have?
We don't know for sure.
But a decent amount of the NCAA's evidence has probably been reported by ESPN already. Even though Aggie fans have been angry at ESPN's reporting in this case, getting as many details out as possible before Manziel interviews is actually beneficial.
Because it allows Manziel to prepare for what the NCAA knows.
Without ESPN's reporting on this situation, Manziel could have found himself in a Bruce Pearl or Dez Bryant-like situation, where he sits down with the NCAA and lies about insignificant issues that the NCAA can prove he lied about. In the case of Dez Bryant, he received a lengthy suspension for lying about behavior that wasn't even an NCAA violation. Bruce Pearl lied about a secondary violation, something that wouldn't have even merited a penalty, and received a three-year coaching ban.
So lying to the NCAA can result in extreme punishments even when you lie about things that aren't violations.
Thanks to ESPN's reporting, Manziel actually has a decent idea what evidence the NCAA has against him.
Which brings us to question two.
2 . Was Manziel honest?
Manziel has to be careful that he isn't caught in a lie, even if it's a lie about an insignificant issue.
That's why Manziel needs to admit that he signed all of these autographs and went into these hotel rooms in all these different states. The NCAA has clear evidence that all of this took place. But at the same time he has to deny that he was ever paid for those autographs.
That means Manziel's line to walk here is narrow, he has to be honest about everything that the NCAA can prove and lie about everything that the NCAA can't prove. (If he truly never took money then he wouldn't be lying about this issue. But as you know, I just don't buy that angle at this point).
3. If Manziel wasn't entirely honest, did he lie at the right times?
Some of you refuse to ever countenance a lie. Y'all are better people than me. Sometimes you have to lie. That's especially the case when you're dealing with a system of absurd, illogical and arbitrary NCAA amateurism rules.
This is one of the those times.
Look, I understand that some of y'all continue to bury your heads in the sand and refuse to believe that Manziel took money for autographs. That's your prerogative. You need to believe that Manziel is a completely and totally honest quarterback who only plays college football for fun. (I also understand many of you take the Aggie Code seriously and that you'd be genuinely troubled by a student who broke the Aggie Code by lying. Even in a situation as stupid as this one. I respect that. I just see less black and white than you guys.)
I believe that sometimes lying is justified when you're confronted with a ludicrous result if you tell the truth.
The NCAA can prove Manziel was in the cities and in the hotel rooms signing autographs, but can they prove that he took payment for signing these autographs? If the NCAA can prove that Manziel took cash for autographs, then Manziel's career is over regardless of whether or not he's honest with the NCAA.
That's why Manziel has to lie if he took money for autographs.
So there's only one question really, and it's the same one we've been asking since news of these signings initially broke, can the NCAA prove that Manziel took money for autographs with or without Johnny's interview answers?
4. Are A&M and Manziel's attorney still working together?
They have been up to this point.
But remember that at some point the interests of the school and Manziel could diverge.
Then things can really get messy.
Could we end up with a situation where Manziel is suing both the NCAA and Texas A&M?
Yes, we could.
Personally, I don't see any way that A&M could allow Manziel's path and its own to diverge -- for political reasons, if for no other reason -- but it's important to realize that the school and the player can end up pursuing different paths during the course of an NCAA investigation. That's why it was important for Manziel to have his own attorney.
Could A&M survey the evidence and sit Manziel because the school thinks its future is more valuable than risking probation with Manziel over this year's result? Yes, it certainly could. Could Manziel and his attorney disagree with this decision? Definitely.
That's why a compromise could make so much sense for A&M and Manziel as well.
5. What evidence does A&M have as a result of its own investigation?
We haven't written much about Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp's quotes, but this is the quote that should receive the most attention: "I don't have to hear from him. I can hear from his original accusers and what they're saying now."
Read that second sentence again, does A&M have statements from those accusers with changed stories than those that were provided to ESPN and the NCAA?
It certainly sounds like it.
If so, how would the NCAA deal with shifting stories in a case like this?
That's why the more I read about this case the more a compromise makes sense. A&M agrees to sit Manziel for a game or two and the NCAA agrees that the punishment fits the "crime."
Otherwise, I'm not sure this story will end for a long time.
Certainly it will hang over the entirety of A&M's season just as the Cam Newton cloud hung over Auburn's 2010 season.
All parties considered should just end the charade and agree to sit Johnny for a game or two.