Earlier this week, we pointed out that while lots of people are drawing Cam Newton/Johnny Manziel comparisons, their two sagas differ in a couple of ways. First, the investigation into Newton opened midseason and didn’t become public until November. Second, there was a loophole for Newton to fit through. That loophole has since been closed and would not be available for Manziel.
Or would it?
Tony Barnhart lays out the differences and the similarities between the two cases at CBSSports.com today. Regarding one of the similarities he writes:
“What if money changed hands for Manziel’s signature but it never touched Manziel’s hands? What if it went to one of the ‘personal assistants’ who travel with him? And what if Manziel didn’t know — or claims he didn’t know — that somebody else got money?
In that case, the NCAA might have to make yet another rule to cover this particular situation. Now do you understand why the rule book is so thick?”
Everyone seems to have a different view on whether or not the Newton rule would apply to Manziel. The view at MrSEC.com is that the above scenario would be covered by the rule that closed that loophole.
In January of 2012, the NCAA added the rule which expanded the definition of an agent. Any third-party influence — like Newton’s father, Cecil, for instance — who markets an athlete for profit could cost the player his eligibility. In addition to family members, contract advisors, financial advisors, marketing representatives, brand managers “or anyone who is employed by or associated with such persons” would be considered agents.
NCAA Bylaw 12 also states that “an agent is any individual who, directly or indirectly, represents or attempts to represent an individual for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation for financial gain.”
Let’s say that Manziel’s friend/handler Nate Fitch asked for cash for Manziel’s signature on memorabilia (as is being reported). Fitch would clearly qualify as an agent as he quit school to help Manziel manage his schedule and fame. He also would have attempted to represent the player for the purpose of making money off of his reputation.
But, would it matter — as Barnhart puts forth — if Fitch and Manziel both said that the quarterback didn’t profit from the attempted rule violation? Knowing that the NCAA tends to make decisions on the fly, we at MrSEC.com aren’t sure that it would. Southern Cal was smacked around based in large part on the word of a man who’s testimony wouldn’t have help up in an actual court of law. The NCAA expanded its powers and jurisdiction in order to pile on Penn State a year ago. So if the NCAA believes Manziel knew what Fitch was doing, the NCAA could punish Manziel. Even if both parties say the player didn’t know about it and didn’t profit from it.
The NCAA is not a court of law. There have been numerous stories over the past few days stating that the NCAA will have a hard time proving that Manziel received cash for autographs. But the new rule says nothing of cash changing hands. It states that a third-party — obviously one who has contacts to the player in question — need only “attempt to represent an individual for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation for financial gain.”
The rule was created to close the Newton loophole. That loophole allowed Newton to play because his father had unsuccessfully attempted to profit from his son. The new rule suggests that no actual profit is necessary, just asking for cash is enough to render a player ineligible. Thus the closing of the Newton loophole.
So the burden of proof on the NCAA might not be as strict as many people suggest or as many Aggie fans hope. And with the NCAA’s long history of moving goalposts, no one in the Manziel camp should be thinking, “Well, let’s see ‘em prove it.” Anyone studying the Southern Cal/Reggie Bush case would tell you that there is still a great deal of doubt as to whether the NCAA really had enough “proof” to hammer that school as it did.
That said, the fact that so many writers and columnists see the Manziel scenario playing out in so many different ways reveals just how confusing this investigation might become.
The best case scenario for Manziel — in our view — does not involve the NCAA failing to prove he received cash.
The best case scenario would be for Manziel and Fitch to deny ever asking for cash in the first place. If the autograph dealers who reportedly took part in all of this remain mum when queried by the NCAA — and it appears that they will — then this investigation could be kiboshed. If a representative asking for cash is enough to get Manziel in trouble, then in the best case scenario for Texas A&M, no one will ever admit to the NCAA that cash was even requested in the first place.