Fort Worth sports attorney: Brokers may be liable for Manziel-related damages

A Fort Worth sports attorney said Thursday that autograph brokers making allegations against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel could be liable for financial damages to A&M under a little-known Texas law passed in 1987.

In addition, Christian Dennie said experience gained from his work in university compliance departments at Oklahoma and Missouri make him question if NCAA investigators will collect enough credible evidence to make an infractions case against Manziel.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines has reported that the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner had at least six autograph sessions with dealers, accepting $7,500 for one session and a five-figure fee at another. It is not against NCAA rules to sign autographs, but it is a violation for an athlete to be paid for his signature. To date, ESPN’s reports have not uncovered proof that Manziel accepted money and some brokers told the network they would not be willing to talk with NCAA investigators.

Because the NCAA has no subpoena power and must independently verify media reports that serve as tips for investigators, Dennie said the quality of information presented thus far makes him question whether Manziel will miss any games this season.

“The tip can’t be the information,” Dennie said. “So it comes down to, ‘Will these brokers talk? And, is there a paper trail?’ If the NCAA can’t collect information like that, a lot of these investigations just fold.”

Dennie, who received his law degree at Oklahoma, has handled several NCAA-related cases for conference offices, schools, coaches and athletes since leaving the Missouri compliance department and joining the Fort Worth firm of Barlow, Garsek & Simon in 2010.

His familiarity with NCAA rules and Texas law caused Dennie to issue a warning Thursday to autograph brokers that admitting they paid Manziel could lead to their punishment under Section 131.004 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

The law, passed in 1987, states that a school can sue for damages against “a person who violates a rule of a national collegiate athletic association … if the person knew or reasonably should have known that a rule was violated; and the violation of the rule is a contributing factor to disciplinary action taken … against the institution or a student at the institution.”

Under the statute, Dennie said A&M must file the lawsuit and, if granted jurisdiction in a Texas court, would be in position to sue for lost revenues, attorney’s fees and other considerations.

“With this statute, I would say 99.9 percent of lawyers in Texas don’t know it,” said Dennie, who explained the potential ramifications in a Thursday blog on the firm’s website. “The statute itself says the damages may include [lost revenues and attorney’s fees]. But it’s open to other elements of damages other than what is specifically cited.”

Gaining jurisdiction in Texas, Dennie said, remains possible even if the brokers arranged signings in other states.

“The big fight would be if you could get personal jurisdiction in the state of Texas and sue them under those laws,” said Dennie, citing the potential for a Texas venue if negotiations related to the signings took place in Texas or if the memorabilia was advertised or sold to buyers in the Lone Star State.

“The law of internet sales is still evolving. If any of the sales took place in Texas, that’s something a court would look at.”

Although NCAA rules apply only to Manziel in this case, Dennie said “this statute may” be something brokers should consider before telling authorities they paid Manziel to sign memorabilia.

Both A&M and the Manziel family have retained lawyers to assist with the ongoing investigation. Because of his background as a former college athlete (Sam Houston State baseball player) and his work with NCAA-related cases, Dennie said he has closely followed the Manziel situation.

If Manziel were his client, Dennie said the primary advice he would share is to cooperate fully with NCAA investigators and avoid violating NCAA bylaw 10.1, the “unethical conduct” statute assessed when athletes lie to NCAA investigators.

Violating that bylaw, in large part, cost Dallas Cowboys’ receiver Dez Bryant the final nine games of his 2009 season at Oklahoma State and cost former Texas point guard Myck Kabongo the first 23 games of last season.

“If you look at their situations, Dez didn’t actually do anything wrong [under NCAA rules]. He just lied. And when he lied, he got a 10.1 charge for lying,” said Dennie, a part-time instructor at the Texas A&M School of Law purchased from Texas Wesleyan in a deal that closed Monday. “That’s where Johnny Manziel has to be most concerned. There are several components under 10.1. Lying to investigators is one of them. So, be honest. Be truthful. Know all the information that’s out there.

“It’s been my experience that, if you’re forthright and truthful when dealing with [NCAA investigators], oftentimes they take that into account. They’ll probably interview Johnny multiple times. The more information they get, the more they keep coming back.”

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