Johnny Football will start the season on the bench, but he won’t be there for long.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel of No. 7 Texas A&M has been suspended for the first half of Saturday’s season opener against the Rice Owls, A&M and the NCAA announced Wednesday in a joint statement.
The statement said there was no evidence that Manziel received payment for signing autographs.
The NCAA and A&M agreed on the one-half suspension because Manziel violated NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168, an NCAA representative confirmed. The rule says student-athletes cannot permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products, or accept payment for the use of their names or likenesses.
“If additional information comes to light, the NCAA will review and consider if further action is appropriate,” the NCAA said in the joint statement. “NCAA rules are clear that student-athletes may not accept money for items they sign, and based on information provided by Manziel, that did not happen in this case.”
In addition to the suspension, Manziel will speak to his teammates about lessons learned from the situation and A&M will educate its athletes about signing multiple items for individuals.
Earlier this month, ESPN reported that the NCAA was looking into whether Manziel was paid for signing autographs at several locations, including in South Florida around the BCS title game. ESPN reported that a set of autograph dealers claimed that Manziel accepted payments to sign more than 4,000 items, including footballs and photographs, at an event in Connecticut in late January.
NCAA investigators spent a large chunk of Sunday with Manziel, questioning him about allegations from memorabilia dealers that he accepted payments for autographs, a source familiar with the investigation told ESPN.com on Monday night.
“I am proud of the way both Coach [Kevin] Sumlin and Johnny handled this situation with integrity and honesty,” A&M chancellor John Sharp said in the statement. “We all take the Aggie Code of Honor very seriously, and there is no evidence that either the university or Johnny violated that code.”
Manziel’s lawyer, Jim Darnell, told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy he did not believe Manziel violated any NCAA rules, but he accepted the suspension in order to “get Johnny back on the field.”
“We don’t really believe [the suspension] was warranted, but we believe NCAA and Texas A&M worked with us to get this matter resolved,” Darnell said. “Johnny was willing to accept it to get back on the football field and compete.”
Darnell said he was thankful the NCAA resolved the situation before the season began.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.
After the suspension was reported by ESPN, Manziel’s odds to win the Heisman Trophy moved from 12-1 to 6-1. He is the third favorite behind Braxton Miller (3-1) and Jadeveon Clowney (5-1).
Texas A&M staff and players had been instructed earlier this week by school officials not to talk about Manziel.
However, after not discussing the matter Tuesday, Sumlin broke his silence about how Manziel has dealt with off-field distractions during the SEC teleconference Wednesday.
“Johnny’s handled it very well,” Sumlin said. “Everything around football, he’s been extremely sharp and focused.”
Sumlin said Tuesday that the coaches have plans for any number of situations that could happen with their players and team and that they plan for the possible absence of players every week.
While Sumlin wouldn’t discuss Manziel’s availability for Week 1, he had no problem talking about whether football has helped the quarterback deal with everything going on off the field.
“I know he likes to play football,” Sumlin said. “I think the structure that he has had since Aug. 4 has been nothing but helpful.”
In Manziel’s absence, the Aggies will start either junior Matt Joeckel or freshman Kenny Hill. Joeckel is more of a pocket passer, and Hill is a dual-threat quarterback.
Joeckel has thrown just 11 passes in his college career. Hill, who starred at Texas high school powerhouse Southlake Carroll (near Dallas), threw for 2,291 yards and 20 TDs and ran for 905 yards and 22 scores as a senior last season.
Sumlin said the competition between the two is ongoing and that he’s been pleased with the progress of both players. He said it helps the team because it’s allowed all quarterbacks to get work with the first team.
Sumlin said he is confident that A&M’s offense will be OK no matter who is running it because of its offensive line. The group, led by left tackle Jake Matthews, is expected to be a strength despite losing Joeckel’s twin brother, Luke Joeckel, who was selected second overall in the NFL draft by Jacksonville. Matthews, son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, will be joined on the line this season by younger brother Mike Matthews at center.
“We’ve got a really solid offensive line, which takes a little bit of the pressure off Matt and Kenny,” Sumlin said. “When Johnny’s taking snaps, when he’s in there, he’s really trying to help the perimeter guys. Our offensive line gives us an opportunity to rotate those quarterbacks and have them be successful.”
The uncertainty surrounding Manziel had put a damper on the excitement surrounding the Aggies, who finished 11-2 in their first season in the SEC.
Without naming Manziel, Sumlin was asked how he balances the needs of a player over those of the team. He likened his team to a family, saying many things are done and said behind closed doors that the public will never know about.
But he did share his philosophy on leading the Aggies.
“There’s nothing more important than the team,” Sumlin said. “We talk to them about what we expect from them on the field, what we expect from them off the field and what we expect from them effort-wise and accountability-wise and being able to trust each other.”
Information from ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy, Travis Haney, Darren Rovell and The Associated Press was used in this report.
This article was originally posted on ESPN.com