The two-quarter timeout that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will serve sends a potent message to all other current and future college athletes. If you can get paid to sign autographs and you’re willing to tell the NCAA you didn’t, the worst consequence you’ll suffer is an extended break from an early-season game you were likely to leave early anyway.
A joint statement from the NCAA and Texas A&M proclaims that “there is no evidence” Manziel received money in exchange for autographs. In other words, Manziel denied it — and the NCAA had no other way to prove it, because the NCAA has no way to force anyone to talk other than Manziel.
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp used that same money term regarding the absence of money changing hands: “There is no evidence.”
So why is Manziel suspended? According to the joint statement, he committed an “inadvertent violation regarding the signing of certain autographs.”
If Manziel didn’t get money (or, more accurately, if there is “no evidence” that he did), then the suspension necessarily arises from NCAA bylaw 188.8.131.52, which requires players to take affirmative steps to ensure that items bearing their names and likenesses aren’t sold for profit.
And so if Manziel sits out half a game, if he addresses the team “regarding the situation and lessons learned” (seriously), and if Texas A&M revises its internal education processes regarding student-athlete autographs for persons with multiple items, Manziel will be in the clear.
It’s a goofy outcome under circumstances where Manziel clearly did something he shouldn’t have done, but where the NCAA necessarily acknowledged that not much could be done about it — or perhaps that it would be hypocritical (and stupid) to keep Manziel from earning millions for others because he tried to generate a little cash for himself.
Still, when it’s time for Manziel to tell his teammates the lessons learned, he won’t have to tell the truth for his teammates to know it. Manziel found a way to work a system that has been working all of them.