HOUSTON — Johnny Football’s season will start a little late.
Johnny Manziel was suspended for the first half of Texas A&M’s opening game against Rice on Saturday for what the school called an “inadvertent” violation of NCAA rules by signing autographs.
The penalty appears to have brought a quick end to an investigation that could have ruined the seventh-ranked Aggies’ upcoming season.
The school issued a statement Wednesday saying it declared the Heisman Trophy winner ineligible and that the NCAA agreed to reinstate Manziel after he sits out the first half against the underdog Owls.
“I am proud of the way both Coach Sumlin and Johnny handled this situation, with integrity and honesty,” Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp said in the statement. “We all take the Aggie Code of Honor very seriously and there is no evidence that either the university or Johnny violated that code.”
The quarterback was being investigated by the NCAA for allegedly accepting money for signing autographs for memorabilia brokers, a violation of NCAA rules that could have led to a much longer suspension. ESPN first reported the allegations against Manziel earlier this month.
According to the statement, Texas A&M and the NCAA “confirmed there is no evidence Manziel received money in exchange for autographs based on currently available information and statements by Manziel.”
Conditions for reinstatement include Manziel discussing his actions with teammates and A&M revising how it educates student-athletes about signing autographs.
“Student-athletes are often asked for autographs from fans, but unfortunately, some individuals’ sole motivation in seeking an autograph is for resale,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs. “It is important that schools are cognizant and educate student-athletes about situations in which there is a strong likelihood that the autograph seeker plans to resell the items.”
He likely will be replaced in the starting lineup by either junior Matt Joeckel or freshman Kenny Hill.
Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy last season, setting numerous school and Southeastern Conference records while leading Texas A&M to an 11-2 mark and a victory against No. 1 Alabama in its first season in the SEC.
He followed that with a high-profile offseason of road trips to Las Vegas and the NBA Finals. Manziel got to meet Heat star LeBron James and rapper Drake, and he posted some Tweets that made headlines.
His biggest misstep, however, came during the summer when he departed early from a quarterback camp for high school players run by the Manning family in Louisiana. Manziel said it was a mutual decision after he overslept and missed meetings and activities.
Manziel was the main attraction at SEC Media Days, where he was peppered with questions but answered with the same cool and calm he often shows in the face of a pass rush.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that’s catastrophic,” Manziel said at the time. “Of course, I’ve made my mistakes. It’s time to grow up.”
The day before the Aggies reported for preseason practice, ESPN reported Manziel signed thousands of autographs for brokers in Texas, Florida and Connecticut, and cited unidentified sources who said Manziel was paid thousands for dollars for the signatures.
Manziel has been off-limits to the media since news broke of the NCAA investigation, but has been practicing with the Aggies.