How much does Texas A&M trust and believe star QB Johnny Manziel?
Unless the NCAA comes back with definitive word on the eligibility status of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, that’s the factor the Aggies administration and coaching staff should be pondering.
The start to Texas A&M’s season features home games against Rice and Sam Houston State. Neither team should be able to play within four touchdowns of the Aggies even if Manziel sits.
That’s where the decision comes in to play: To sit or not to sit?
Nine days until kickoff and not an official word from the NCAA, which ESPN reports is investigating Manziel for receiving compensation in exchange for signing autographs.
Let’s make this clear up front: No fan of college football wants to see Manziel miss any or all of the season because he’s just so fun to watch. That said, it’s worth considering sitting him for the first two contests.
If proven, it would constitute a violation in NCAA rules and Manziel would be subject to penalties. A recent comparable sanction banned former Georgia WR A.J. Green for four games for selling a jersey.
The accusations of Manziel seem far more significant than what left Green with a four-game suspension.
If Manziel plays and the NCAA ultimately finds that he signed away his amateurism during the offseason, it would vacate wins in which he appeared.
That’s about the only way Rice and Sam Houston State have any chance to claim victories over the Aggies.
At that point, forget winning the SEC, losing those two games would mean A&M would need to win at least six of its final 10 games – without Manziel – just to make a bowl game.
If there’s a chance Manziel will be found ineligible, the only conceivable reason for him to play in the first two games doesn’t seem to serve as enough of a reward. That reason would be for him to rack up huge stats in trying to become the first player since Archie Griffin to win two Heisman Trophies.
Considering the publicity that came with his winning the first Heisman created this problem, it’s difficult to imagine Texas A&M risking two forfeits to otherwise hopeless teams for Manziel to win another.
Of course, the level of competition sees a significant spike the following week when the Aggies host two-time defending champ Alabama.
As smart as it could be for coach Kevin Sumlin’s team to insist that Manziel sit for the first two games, it’s impossible to imagine the university voluntarily keeping him out of the Sept. 14 battle.
For his part, Sumlin said when the story first broke that he would run practices as he usually does – with Manziel receiving the bulk of the first-team reps. That much was true as recently as this weekend during the Aggies’ scrimmage.
However, Sumlin also said that “a lot of people” would be involved in the decision to play – or not play – Manziel before the investigation concludes.
A&M picked the right group with whom to consult in Lightfoot, Franklin, Wright LLC – the same Birmingham-based law firm that worked with Auburn when the NCAA investigated Cam Newton.
University chancellor John Sharp came out swinging in an email on which Suzanne Halliburton of The Austin American-Statesman reported. Specifically, Sharp took aim at ESPN’s Darren Rovell, who has been the lead reporter on the Manziel piece, trying to discredit him by showing that Rovell has been fooled previously.
Texas A&M’s athletics department, conversely, has said little beyond an email AD Eric Hyman wrote to boosters last week.
“Any decisions we make regarding this situation will be based on an analysis of available facts,” Hyman wrote in the email. “Be assured that we would like to reach a resolution as quickly as possible, but at this stage, we are not in a position to speculate on a specific timeline.”
That could potentially mean sitting Manziel early in the season.
Court of public opinion be damned.
In no way would Texas A&M playing it safe be an admission of wrongdoing on Manziel’s part. Yet that’s exactly the way the “embrace debate” circuit annoyingly on display for most of every day Monday through Friday would judge such a decision.
The Aggies can’t afford to gamble losses to the Owls and the Bearkats if they are even remotely concerned that he might be ruled ineligible.
Manziel is the most spectacular college football player in the nation. Most coaches would trust no one more to make a huge play in the biggest moment of the season.
The trust Sumlin has in his quarterback on the field was broken off the field, which is why the most critical decision the second-year coach makes this year might be the playing status of his star pupil.