Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel scrambled out of the most precarious rush yet Wednesday, when the NCAA and school jointly announced a half-game suspension in Saturdays season opener against Rice for an inadvertent violation regarding the signing of certain autographs.
Consider this: Manziel missed a full five quarters a season ago on the way to the Heisman Trophy because of blowout wins.
His encore season should be delayed only two quarters because no proof could be found that Manziel was paid for signing autographs, according to current information and statements by Manziel, the announcement cited.
So Manziel was lightly patted on the wrist instead, punished for signing items he should have known would likely later be sold. Its a minor violation compared to taking money.
A&M spokesman Jason Cook told USA Today the violation related to the commercial use of Manziels name had not been applied before.
The NCAA can still review additional information that comes to light, but Wednesdays announcement mostly brings to an end the three-week national stakeout of Manziels status, ongoing since ESPNs first of multiple reports Aug. 4 alleging Manziel signed thousands of autographs for thousands of dollars.
The news broke on the same day A&M reported for camp.
The Manziel family hired El Paso, Texas, attorney Jim Darnell, and A&M used the same Birmingham, Ala., law firm that represented Auburn in the Cam Newton brouhaha in 2010 to represent it throughout.
A&M declared Manziel ineligible and applied for reinstatement according to terms accepted by the NCAA: Manziel sitting out half a game and addressing the team regarding lessons learned and A&M agreeing to revise its education regarding athletes and multiple autographs.
The resolution comes in time for A&M to gameplan for Rice, the Conference USA opponent that kicks off a season in which A&M hopes to contend for a BCS national championship, and in plenty of time before No. 1 Alabama visits Kyle Field in a mega rematch on Sept. 14. Florida-based attorney Michael Buckner, an NCAA enforcement expert, predicted to the Dallas Morning News weeks ago that Manziels high-profile case would be expedited with so much at stake.
Coach Kevin Sumlin has repeatedly said that hes been pleased with Manziels focus and performance during camp.
Sumlin has been cagey about revealing if freshman Kenny Hill or junior Matt Joeckel would start if Manziel couldnt Saturday, calling the backup battle ongoing this week.
A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, in the statement, thanked the NCAA staff not only for its fairness and professionalism, he said, but also for the expediency of its actions.
A&M system chancellor John Sharp, who declined a request for an interview through a spokesman, said in the statement: I am proud of the way both Coach Sumlin and Johnny handled the situation, with integrity and honesty. We all take the Aggie Code of Honor very seriously and there is no evidence that either the university or Johnny violated that code.
Sharp waged a public campaign in defense of Manziel, who reportedly met with the NCAA for nearly six hours Sunday.
The decision had a major impact in Las Vegas, where the odds of Manziels chances of repeating as a Heisman winner and Texas A&Ms chances of winning the national championship shifted dramatically on Wednesday. RJ Bell, the founder of sports betting web site Pregame.com, said that Manziels chances of winning the Heisman jumped to 6-1 from 12-1 on Wednesday, and the teams shot at the title increased to 10-1 from 18-1.