Drip, drip, drip.
The faucet that over the last week and a half has been pouring out information related to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's autograph scandal dropped another bombshell on Monday night, when ESPN.com's Darren Rovell and Justine Gubar reported that Manziel participated in two more autograph sessions in January—one in Florida after the BCS National Championship Game and another in Houston later that month.
The report states that Manziel signed at least 1,500 items in each of the two sessions, which were set up by Florida memorabilia broker Kevin Freistat. His company, KLF Sports, has exclusive deals with Sugar Ray Leonard, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez.
When combined with the previous reports from ESPN, that brings the grand total of Manziel autographs to 4,400 in one month to three separate brokers in six signing sessions.
The latest report doesn't specifically state if Manziel was paid for his signatures; but when coupled with an alleged five-figure payday for a signing in South Florida and a $7,500 haul in New Haven, Conn., the two new signings certainly add to circumstantial evidence that Manziel was shopping his John Hancock to brokers.
Say the initial reports that he was paid for signing items are true. Is it reasonable to assume that he was paid for these two additional sessions, too? Especially considering these newly reported signings totaled 1,500 or more items each.
Of course it is.
It is common practice for the memorabilia industry to deal in cash, and the likelihood of Manziel or people in his camp being reckless and depositing money, knowing that it's against NCAA rules, is slim to none. Sure, brokers like to have photographic and video evidence of stars signing to further authenticate items, but a cash exchange being caught on camera is a bit unrealistic.
The abundance of reports coming from all angles makes it more likely that Manziel will have to sit out at least part of the regular season due to—if for no other reason—the time it takes to properly investigate all these claims.
With two weeks until kickoff, that will put Texas A&M in a tricky spot because its primary goal should be to protect itself.
The university is going to have to ask itself if it wants to put the fortunes of the 2013 season in the hands of a guy who's being bombarded with allegations, each of which puts his eligibility in jeopardy.
While there likely won't be a smoking gun, the NCAA doesn't necessarily need one.
When it cleared Auburn of wrongdoing in the recruitment of Cam Newton, it outlined in its statement what it requires in regard to burden of proof (h/t: ESPN.com):
Any allegations of major rules violations must meet a burden of proof, which is a higher standard than rampant public speculation online and in the media. The allegations must be based on credible and persuasive information and includes a good-faith belief that the Committee on Infractions could make a finding.
Rampant public speculation is certainly in play right now, but the growing number of Manziel-signed items for sale takes this case beyond mere speculation. ESPN verified three sequential batches totaling 1,623 items in its initial report on the story, that's in addition to the two new signings that allege two more signings of at least 1,500 items apiece.
Will A&M and/or the NCAA buy that Manziel signed all of those items out of the goodness of his heart, particularly with additional reports of more items being signed in bulk?
At what point does "rampant public speculation" go out the window and that "good-faith belief" come into play?
It's looking more and more like this won't be wrapped up before the football season begins, which will force A&M to make a decision to either back its star quarterback or sit him until a resolution can be reached.
It'd be great to see Manziel play, because he's a joy to watch on the field. But mounting evidence, even if it's circumstantial in nature, makes that less likely as time drags on and the story continues to develop.
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