Johnny Manziel has become one of the most polarizing figures in sports since he won the Heisman Trophy last December. The Texas A&M redshirt sophomore quarterback has generated plenty of headlines, from being sent home from the Manning Passing Academy to tweeting about his frustration with College Station. The common thread was that most of Manziel’s offseason behavior had little to no effect on his eligibility.
But that all changed when the NCAA launched an investigation into allegations that Manziel was paid thousands of dollars for his autograph. The governing body met with Manziel for six hours over the weekend, though little remains known about the specifics of the inquiry. Still, as Manziel prepares for his sophomore campaign, the NCAA cloud continues to overshadow his hopes of snagging a second-straight Heisman Trophy.
SI.com polled other college football experts about Manziel’s NCAA troubles and what they might mean for his candidacy:
What has struck you so far about the NCAA investigation into Manziel?
Pete Thamel, SI senior writer: I think the most striking thing about the Manziel investigation is the confluence of circumstances of the macro and what it’s going to mean to the NCAA. The collision course of having the highest-profile player in college sports under scrutiny by the NCAA enforcement department, which itself is under significant scrutiny, is a fascinating blend.
Andy Staples, SI senior writer: Nothing. We don’t know enough about the investigation yet.
Kari Chisholm, publisher, StiffArmTrophy.com. I’m reminded a little bit of the Reggie Bush investigation at USC. You had a lot of former Heisman winners who said this was not a big deal. You’ve got a lot of Heisman players who came from an era -- in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s -- where a lot of people were getting paid to play football. They come from an era where that was considered part of a process, and some of those winners would not see this as that big a deal. On the other hand, you have a lot of other Heisman voters who really look at all of this stuff very carefully. The Heisman Trophy is not just the most valuable player award. It has typically gone to players who have great stats, demonstrate leadership on and off the field and generally seem like a good guy. Heisman voters seem to consider it in part a leadership and character award as much as it is a performance award.
Chris Huston, publisher, HeismanPundit.com: I’m never one to make a judgment on what did or didn’t happen. That’s ultimately up to the NCAA. As long as the NCAA doesn’t rule him ineligible, then I don’t think it’s going to affect the voting. But there are other factors that are just as much in play. If they rule against him and he doesn’t get to play, he doesn’t have a shot. But unless the NCAA comes down with ruling, I don’t think it’s going to be a factor.
Stewart Mandel, SI senior writer: For me, the allegations against him aren’t going to affect how I vote. The allegations around Cam Newton didn’t really affect his candidacy.
Manziel’s situation has been compared to that of Cam Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn despite an NCAA investigation into whether he sought (and received) money during his recruitment. Do you think these situations are similar?
Huston: It feels a little different, but obviously Manziel has already won the Heisman. For Manziel I think it’s probably more the cumulative effect of everything that’s gone along with him. There are many people who might vote for him because they feel NCAA rules are dumb. I asked a lot of people about this during the Cam Newton thing, and it surprised me the number of voters who were basically willing to vote for him regardless. Unless the guy’s doing something actually illegal, I think they tend to give benefit of the doubt.
Thamel: In both these situations, the parties are obviously guilty. Cam Newton’s dad asked for the money, and Manziel signed 4,500 autographs. Only people who believe in the Tooth Fairy would believe otherwise.
Staples: They’re different situations in that what’s been accused is different, and that you have the potential of Manziel playing without some sort of resolution. We just don’t know. Nobody’s saying anything. If this goes into the season, it’s pretty similar to Newton, just in terms of a player playing under a cloud.
Chisholm: With Cam Newton, the allegations were around recruitment, which affects the competitive balance of the game. If Johnny Manziel was taking money, that doesn’t influence the competitive balance of the game, which is what we should be most concerned with. And frankly, there are a whole lot of people who have sympathy for players who are making millions for schools but the players themselves can’t buy a pizza for their girlfriend. I think it matters how much money we’re talking about. Fifty grand? Five hundred bucks? It also depends on how commercial this was. Did he sign with an agency to sign this stuff? There are different levels of what’s going on here.
Mandel: For Manziel, most of what is alleged occurred during the offseason. At the point of Newton’s investigation, he had only been a big name for a couple of months. Manziel has been around for a year now. The story has taken on a bigger deal than the level of allegations.
Let’s say the NCAA finds no wrongdoing on Manziel’s part, and he doesn’t miss any games. Would the allegations alone make you hesitate in voting for him?
Staples: Not unless [the Heisman Trust wants] to change the instruction on the ballot. The ballot says to pick the best college football player in the United States this season. So I’m going to go by that unless they change it. It’s just like Cam Newton all over again. lf they say he’s eligible, and he puts up the numbers, then he puts up the numbers. That’s what matters, according to the rules.
Thamel: I don’t think he’s going to win regardless. Between losing some of the guys they have, I don’t think Texas A&M will be as good this year. Defenses will be much better against him. Plus, the way this thing is spiraling right now, if he’s able to play at this same level this year, I would be stunned.
Chisholm: I would be very surprised, even in the best of all worlds, if he won a second one at all. Given all the allegations and the behavior stuff, I wouldn’t bet on Johnny Manziel, I’d put it that way… The bottom line is, there are people who will have sympathy for a college kid trying to make money. But I’m not sure even given that, he’s a likely candidate for the Heisman.
Mandel: I know there are a lot of people who take integrity into it. It’s one thing if it’s something really serious, but if it’s just NCAA amateurism violations, that’s not really going to affect my Heisman vote.
Overall do you think a player’s activities or troubles off the field should have an influence on his Heisman Trophy candidacy?
Staples: I do think there’s a pretty significant portion of the voting group that is going to care, that’s going to say they don’t want to reward someone who might have broken an NCAA rule. My thing, just like it was with Cam Newton, if the NCAA says he’s eligible, then he’s eligible. That’s the criteria.
Mandel: I’m mostly on-the-field, but with certain things like when a player commits a violent crime, that should certainly be taken into consideration.
Thamel: I think in general, yes, it should. In the world we live in now, yes, it should. The Heisman represents the ultimate in college sports.
Huston: It should be on a case-by-case basis. I’ve long been an advocate of judging people based on what you know. There are two areas where we know about Manziel: What he does on the field and what he does off the field. What he does on the field, we have 100 percent of the data. What he does off the field, we have very little information. We have a big piece on ESPN, we see little snippets on social media, but it’s incomplete information off the field. For me, making a judgment on his value as a player based on incomplete information off the field is not smart, unless there’s something like criminal behavior.
Chisholm: Whether I think it should or shouldn’t, the reality is, it does. You’ve got a collection of the press, plus living Heisman winners, and we’ve clearly seen over the years that they clearly consider it a leadership and character award as much as an on-the-field performance award. You listen to voters, you listen to former winners, they’ll say “He’s an outstanding young man.” So much of it is intangibles, which is why the guy with the best stats often doesn’t win. That stuff does matter. This whole spring and summer, we’ve been treated to lot of photos of Johnny Manziel acting like a college freshman. Some people say he’s a college kid, so who cares? At the same time, some voters are saying, ‘We inducted him into the most elite club in all of sport, so start acting like it.’ And he hasn’t been. So should he be the only other guy to join Archie Griffin as a two-time Heisman winner? People will look at that with very high standards.College football preseason archive: Check out all of SI's 2013 preview content