Georgia tailback Todd Gurley was suspended indefinitely on Thursday because school athletic department compliance officials are investigating whether Gurley signed dozens of pieces of memorabilia in exchange for cash.
SI.com has learned that a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week that he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in Athens, Ga., one day this past spring. The person claimed to have a photo and video of Gurley signing the items, but neither the photo nor the video showed money changing hands. NCAA rules require schools to immediately declare a player ineligible if they discover a violation has been committed. Schools may then apply for the player’s reinstatement. Reached by text message on Thursday afternoon, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity declined comment.
Gurley, a junior from Tarboro, N.C., is considered a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Through five games this season he has rushed for 773 yards, scored eight rushing touchdowns and averaged 8.2 yards a carry. "I'm obviously very disappointed," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said in a statement. "The important thing for our team is to turn all our attention toward preparation for Missouri."
A check of the James Spence Authentication database revealed 90 consecutively numbered pieces of Gurley-signed memorabilia (J19709-J19799), as well as another lot of 20 consecutively numbered pieces (H85318-H85338) of Gurley-signed memorabilia. JSA is one of the leading autograph authentication services. Consecutive authentication numbers suggest all the items were submitted at once following a large-scale signing.
It is unclear how much time Gurley might miss due to the investigation. Last year Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was embroiled in a similar investigation after autograph brokers claimed to ESPN that Manziel was signing items for cash. None of the brokers would speak to the NCAA, and eventually Manziel -- who employed an attorney with experience dealing with the NCAA -- was suspended for the first half of the Aggies’ season-opening 52-31 win over Rice for what was deemed an inadvertent violation of NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124, which forbids athletes from permitting the use of their name for a commercial product. It was never proven that Manziel took money for autographs while playing for Texas A&M.
The difference between Manziel’s case and Gurley’s is that Manziel was accused in July, giving him and Texas A&M a chance to get the case resolved so he didn’t miss playing time due to a pending investigation. The accusation against Gurley comes in the middle of the season. If Georgia determines a violation occurred, it must declare Gurley ineligible and apply for his reinstatement. That reinstatement can be granted with or without penalties. The last time Georgia turned in a violation involving a piece of memorabilia, receiver A.J. Green was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season after he sold a game-worn Independence Bowl jersey to a person the NCAA considered an agent.