With every headline, it becomes less likely that the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner will be playing when the 2013 season commences. From Twittered and YouTubed display of youthful excess to spiraling allegations of autographs for profit, Johnny Manziel has had the most wretched offseason in the history of college football. It would surprise many, this correspondent among them, if he’s eligible for all 12 of Texas A&M’s regular-season games.
For the sake of summer discussion, let’s say he isn’t. Who gains? Who suffers? Glad you asked.
Winner: Alabama. The Tide’s toughest-on-paper game would become rather easy if Manziel isn’t eligible for the ballyhooed Sept. 14 date in College Station. Given that A.J. Green was held out of Georgia’s first four games in 2010 after selling his Independence Bowl jersey for $1,000, it’s hard to imagine that Manziel will be allowed to play in Week 3. That’s providing the NCAA can find a scintilla of proof. But what if it can’t?
Loser: NCAA. The pressure on its just-overhauled enforcement division to pin something on Manziel is immense. The memory of one quarterback from a SEC school managing to stay eligible — and, not incidentally, winning the Heisman and leading Auburn to a BCS title — amid reports his father had solicited money from Mississippi State hasn’t faded. Strange as it sounds, Johnny Football could pay for the sins of Cecil Newton. But if Manziel gets docked, his case becomes Exhibit A in Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA for profiting off its players’ names and images. For the NCAA, it’s a lose-lose proposition.
Winner: LSU. The Tigers were picked to finish third in the SEC West by league media, which is low by their standards. If Manziel misses significant time, LSU figures to move up. Still, its game against the Aggies isn’t until Nov. 23, by which time even a half-season ban would have expired. Which raises another issue: If Manziel is suspended for four or six games, would he stay at A&M and play after reinstatement? Would he leave to play professionally in Canada? Or would he and his moneyed family haul the NCAA and maybe the SEC and maybe even Texas A&M into court?
Loser: Texas A&M. Granted, this falls under the heading of “duh.” But as ugly as this summer has been for the Aggies, autumn could get worse. Their shining SEC maiden voyage has been tarnished by Manziel’s antics, and anyone who read ESPN The Magazine’s profile of Johnny Football knows that his family holds no great love for A&M. Soon now, the Aggies might have to answer a question that sounds laughable on its face: Are we better off with the Heisman holder or without him?
Winner: The SEC East. The three best teams in the division — Georgia, South Carolina and Florida — don’t play A&M. (Don’t get me started on the SEC’s schedule.) They get to steer clear of this mess.
Loser: The SEC. The conference watched with gritted teeth as Auburn kept winning in 2010. When the NCAA allowed Cam Newton to remain eligible under a frankly indefensible (and since tweaked) rule — back then, the student-athlete wasn’t deemed culpable for the actions of his immediate family — the SEC again assumed the position from which Commissioner Mike Slive has labored long to extricate his conference. Much of the nation saw Auburn’s title as further proof that all that matters down here is winning football games — and national championships.
Winner: Jadeveon Clowney. If Manziel doesn’t play often or well enough to retain his Heisman, the great South Carolina defensive lineman has a fighting chance to win the thing. Provided he doesn’t decide to sit out the season to save himself for the NFL draft.
Loser: Johnny Manziel. His giddy rise from redshirt freshman to Heisman winner has been compromised in a way college football has never seen. Newton took his trophy and left for the NFL; Reggie Bush was a pro by the time the NCAA got around to slamming USC. But Manziel was due back for another season of what figured to be fun and frolic. Alas, his happy story has become the sort of cautionary tale that we see too often in sports.
He has damaged his school, his conference, his legacy and his future. (Think any NFL team will be eager to entrust its offense to a guy who managed to party himself into a punch line as an amateur?) In less time than it took for him to brand himself as the dauntless Johnny Football, Manziel has come perilously close to rendering himself a Johnny One Note.