If you’re Kevin Sumlin, what do you do? Your Texas A&M football team is expected to be a national title contender in 2013, but your all-everything quarterback — the guy most responsible for last year’s incredible 11-2 campaign — is reportedly under investigation by the NCAA for allegedly receiving $10,000+ to sign autographs on Aggie memorabilia.
Right now, Sumlin has two options with four possible outcomes. Each of his options carries a risk. Assuming Johnny Manziel tells the coach that neither he, his family, nor his high school buddy-turned-manager took money for autographs, A&M’s coach could:
* Play Manziel and risk having to forfeit or vacate wins down the line.
* Play it safe and keep Manziel on the bench while the NCAA makes its decision.
Yesterday, Sumlin said that Manziel will “get as many reps as he was going to get” in fall camp. In other words, it’s business as usual in College Station until more information is gathered. But the Aggie coach also said he’ll need to develop a backup quarterback regardless of the Manziel situation. Currently junior Matt Joeckel is listed as the backup on A&M’s two-deep.
Assuming that Sumlin and the TAMU administration go full speed ahead with Johnny Football, obviously, the Aggies chances for silverware increase. He might create distractions off the field, but on the field Manziel creates mayhem for opposing defenses.
If Sumlin plays him and the NCAA can’t prove any wrongdoing, that’s a win/win. Hell, that’s possibly 14 wins.
If Sumlin plays Manziel and the NCAA does drop the hammer on the QB, Texas A&M would probably be forced to vacate or forfeit every game in which Manziel had played. If a negative verdict comes midseason, A&M would lose their star in the middle of the campaign and be forced to toss away victories.
The school has hired the same Birmingham law firm that aided Auburn during the Cam Newton affair. That’s a comparison nearly everyone is making. But the Newton situation differs from Manziel’s in two ways. First, the Newton story went public late in the season with Auburn racing toward eventual SEC and BCS titles and Newton himself was headed for the Heisman. Second, the loophole that allowed the NCAA to look the other way has since been closed in the rule book.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it’s hard to look at the facts of the Newton case and not come to the conclusion that the SEC and the NCAA — in an attempt to avoid a hugely embarrassing scenario — simply gave Newton the green light in a rushed attempt to kill the story. On the heels of the Reggie Bush affair, the powers-that-be in college football didn’t want Auburn and Newton to grab every trophy in the land only to have to give it all back a couple of months later.
In the SEC’s case, there was literally a rule on the books stating that no player (nor anyone in his family) could solicit money for the player’s services. No one ever denied that Newton’s father solicited money. He did. His son — according to SEC rules — should have outlawed. But the league decided that Newton’s father hadn’t agreed to take the money, which is quite absurd. Soliciting money implies that you’ll take it when they hand it to you, no?
The point being, if Newton’s issues had gone public in August as Manziel’s have, I’m not sure the SEC and NCAA would have been so quick to say, “He’s good; let him play.”
The other option for Sumlin is to bench his star for safety’s sake and hope that he’s cleared at some point during the season. Best-case scenario: Texas A&M wins without their Heisman hero, Manziel is eventually cleared, and the Aggies roll on to championships.
The worst-case scenario is one that would probably haunt Sumlin, the A&M administration and Aggie fans for a long, long time: the school holds Manziel out, the Aggies stumble to a disappointing season, and then the NCAA rules late in the year or afterward that Manziel was all clear.
So should Sumlin take the risk or play it safe? If the coach plays it as his quarterback would, we already know which option he’ll choose.