Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game against Rice for what is considered an inadvertent violation of an NCAA rule regarding autographs.In a joint statement issued Wednesday, school and NCAA officials agreed there was “no evidence that quarterback Johnny Manziel received money in exchange for autographs, based on currently available information and statements by Manziel.”Because of the inadvertent violation of an NCAA bylaw that says athletes are “required to take steps to stop” the use of their name or picture on commercial items sold by an individual or agency, A&M officials declared Manziel ineligible and submitted a three-part penalty that was accepted by NCAA officials.In addition to sitting out the first half of Saturday’s opener against Rice (noon, ESPN), Manziel must address the team regarding the situation and lessons learned. A&M also must revise its education of student-athletes in regard to signing autographs for individuals with multiple items.The penalties can be reviewed by NCAA officials if additional information surfaces and further action is considered appropriate. NCAA bylaws prohibit signing memorabilia in exchange for money and the joint release said: “Based on information provided by Manziel, that did not happen in this case.”Wednesday’s action ends more than three weeks of speculation about the eligibility status of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and assures that A&M will start a former Tarrant County high school standout at quarterback against Rice: junior Matt Joeckel, an Arlington High School graduate, or Kenny Hill, a freshman from Southlake Carroll.Speculation about Manziel’s availability began Aug. 4, when an ESPN Outside the Lines report alleged that Manziel accepted a five-figure fee in January for signing items for a memorabilia dealer in Florida. Citing unnamed sources, ESPN followed up with additional reports of other signings for profit involving Manziel but indicated many of the network’s sources were not willing to talk to NCAA investigators.Manziel denied accepting money in exchange for his signature during a six-hour meeting Sunday with NCAA investigators in College Station, sources told CBSSports.com. Wednesday’s joint announcement showed that NCAA officials were satisfied with Manziel’s denial when weighed against other evidence they collected. His transgression that led to Saturday’s suspension stemmed from violating the “spirit” of bylaws 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52, which require an athlete to try to stop the commercial use of his name or likeness for commercial purposes.Manziel was not available for interviews, and administrators from A&M and the NCAA issued prepared statements about the decision.“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 services. “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.”Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, who declared Manziel “innocent” of the allegations during a television interview last week, praised his quarterback and coach Kevin Sumlin for handling the uncertainty surrounding Manziel’s eligibility status “with integrity and honesty.”In a statement, Sharp said: “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 code says, “An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”In his statement, A&M athletic director Eric Hyman praised the NCAA staff for “its fairness and professionalism throughout this process,” as well as its expediency in getting the case settled before Saturday’s kickoff. A&M, the No. 7 team in The Associated Press’ poll, is considered a national title contender. Wednesday’s ruling assures that Manziel, barring injury, will be on the field for the team’s Sept. 14 showdown in College Station against top-ranked Alabama.Sumlin was not available for comment. But in Tuesday’s news conference, he called the battle for the backup quarterback job between Joeckel and Hill “an ongoing competition.”By Saturday, one of them will replace Manziel in A&M’s starting lineup. At least for the first half of the Rice game.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch