OTL: NCAA probing Manziel for autographs
The NCAA is investigating whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January, "Outside the Lines" has learned.
MIAMI -- The NCAA is investigating whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January, "Outside the Lines" has learned. Two sources tell "Outside the Lines" that the Texas A&M quarterback agreed to sign memorabilia in exchange for a five-figure flat fee during his trip to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship. Both sources said they witnessed the signing, though neither saw the actual exchange of money.
Three sources said Manziel signed photographs, footballs, mini football helmets and other items at the request of an autograph broker named Drew Tieman. Two sources, who are aware of the signing arrangement, told "Outside the Lines" that Tieman approached Manziel on Jan. 6, when he landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to attend the game between Alabama and Notre Dame the next day.
After that meeting, three sources said, Manziel, accompanied by his friend and personal assistant Nathan Fitch, visited Tieman's residence and signed hundreds of items in the main room of the apartment despite the fact that there were many people in the room. Before Manziel left South Florida, after taking in the title game, he signed hundreds of autographs more, one source said.
The source also told "Outside the Lines" that James Garland, the NCAA's assistant director of enforcement, in June contacted Tieman and at least one person associated with the signings. The source said Garland, who did not return calls from "Outside the Lines" for comment, told the person that he wanted to talk about Manziel signing items that had appeared for sale on eBay. An NCAA spokeswoman cited NCAA policy to "Outside the Lines" and declined to comment.
If the NCAA investigation finds that Manziel has violated NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124 -- accepting money for promoting or advertising the commercial sale of a product or service -- he could be ruled ineligible.
Attempts to reach Manziel were unsuccessful. Tieman did not return multiple calls and text messages. Fitch could not be reached.
In a statement, Jason Cook, Texas A&M's senior associate athletics director for external affairs, said "it is Texas A&M's longstanding practice not to respond to such questions concerning specific student-athletes."
Texas A&M declined further comment.
But A&M has responded to questions about Manziel and autographs before. On March 6, when ESPN.com contacted the school's compliance director, David Batson, to address a slew of Manziel-signed items that had flooded the memorabilia market, Batson provided a statement:
"Johnny has indicated on numerous occasions and, once again earlier today, that he has never (and to his knowledge, his parents, other relatives and friends have ever) been compensated through cash or other benefits or promises of deferred compensation for providing his autograph," Batson wrote.
While college athletes are frequently asked to sign autographs in public places, and those autographs often end up for sale on eBay, the amount of Manziel product that flooded the memorabilia market overall following the BCS title game was overwhelming, memorabilia dealers told "Outside the Lines."
While Manziel's father, Paul, had alleged that many of the items were fake, two of the leading autograph authentication companies, PSA/DNA and JSA, have authenticated many of the items.
Officials with both companies have told ESPN in recent months that they stand by their guarantee that they believe the signatures, some with inscriptions like "Gig 'Em" and "Heisman '12" are genuine. Online verification databases show a single lot of 999 signed Manziel photos numbered sequentially. JSA authenticated 248 items and 376 items that came in in two batches that also are numbered sequentially. Industry insiders say this indicates the signings were done in large quantities intended for wholesale.
Calls and messages to Paul Manziel were not returned.
Even though Manziel is not allowed to generate income from his signature, the Manziel family has sought to protect Johnny's business affairs by starting a corporation, JMAN2 Enterprises, which in February filed for the trademark to use "Johnny Football" when he was ready to leave the college game.
The value of Manziel is clear in the memorabilia and appearance market: Independent merchandiser Aggieland Outfitters recently auctioned off six helmets signed by Manziel and Texas A&M's other Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow, for $81,000. Texas A&M's booster organization, the 12th Man Foundation, sold a table for six, where Manziel and Crow will sit at the team's Kickoff Dinner later this month, for $20,000.
The school has committed to renovating Kyle Field, which will push seating capacity to 102,500 by the time it is completed in 2015. Texas A&M officials have said that donors, who make annual contributions of $80,000 to $100,000, have purchased all but two of the 144 suites in the stadium.
In the school's first year in the SEC last season, Manziel led the Aggies to an 11-2 record and a top-five finish in the AP poll for the first time since 1956. He and his teammates are scheduled to report Sunday afternoon for the 2013-14 season. He will not address the media Monday, but A&M's Cook told ESPN's Kelly Naqi later Sunday that he will practice with the team Monday.
Meanwhile, with NCAA officials investigating Manziel, the Las Vegas Hotel sports books on Sunday night took Texas A&M-Alabama off the board. Bets have also been taken down on Texas A&M games against Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri.
Manziel's offseason has drawn heavy media scrutiny. In the past few months, he has been spotted in the front row at NBA games, hanging out with rappers at bars, and has written various headline-starting tweets, including one in which he said he couldn't wait to leave College Station -- the home of Texas A&M. He also was sent home early from the Manning Passing Academy last month.
Paul Manziel recently told ESPN The Magazine that he doesn't like how the school hasn't protected the family from the NCAA and how he believes that school administrators put their motives above his son's well-being.
"It's starting to get under our skin," he said. "They're so selfish."
Manziel also acknowledged that he was concerned about his son's drinking and how he is dealing with celebrity.
"Yeah, it could all come unraveled," Johnny's father told The Magazine. "And when it does, it's gonna be bad. Real bad."
Justine Gubar is a producer in ESPN's enterprise unit.
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