Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been suspended for the first half of the seventh-ranked Aggies' season opener against Rice on Saturday for what the school said was an "inadvertent" violation of NCAA rules by signing autographs.
The school issued a statement Wednesday saying it declared the Heisman Trophy winner ineligible and that the NCAA agreed to reinstate Manziel after he sits out the first half.
"I am proud of the way both Coach (Kevin) Sumlin and Johnny handled this situation, with integrity and honesty," Texas 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 was being investigated by the NCAA for allegedly accepting money for signing autographs for memorabilia brokers, which violates NCAA rules and could have led to a much longer suspension. ESPN first reported the allegations against Manziel earlier this month.
According to the statement, Texas A&M and the NCAA "confirmed there is no evidence Manziel received money in exchange for autographs based on currently available information and statements by Manziel."
Conditions for reinstatement include Manziel discussing his actions with teammates and A&M revising how it educates student-athletes about signing autographs.
"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 affairs. "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."
The situation surrounding Manziel has put a damper on the excitement surrounding the Aggies after they finished 11-2 in their first SEC season.
Sumlin said 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."
The Aggies will use junior Matt Joeckel or freshman Kenny Hill with Manziel out for the first half.
Joeckel is more of a pocket passer and Hill is a dual-threat quarterback. Joeckel has thrown 11 passes in his college career. Hill, who starred at Texas high school powerhouse Southlake Carroll, threw for 2,291 yards and 20 TDs and ran for 905 yards and 22 more 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 his team because they've always allowed all quarterbacks to get work with the first team.
"Anybody who has been around knows that we rotate players with the first team, has seen us rotate snaps with the first team and because of that I think it gives your team a chance to develop a relationship or camaraderie with that first team if something happens," Sumlin said.
Senior running back Ben Malena is confident that Joeckel or Hill could ably fill in.
"Both of those guys have really done great things when they've got their opportunities in practice," he said. "They have both had opportunities to make plays and they have. It's a great competition."
Sumlin is confident that Texas A&M's offense will be OK no matter who's running the show because of his offensive line. The group, led by left tackle Jake Matthews, is expected to be a strength despite losing Matt's twin brother, Luke Joeckel, when he was selected second overall in the draft. Matthews, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, will be joined on the line this season by little 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."
Whoever starts at quarterback won't have to face Conference USA preseason defensive player of the year Phillip Gaines. The Rice cornerback is out because of a violation of a team rule, and starting linebacker Cameron Nwosu is recovering from knee surgery.
The Owls have brought back 19 starters from last season's squad, which went 7-6 and made the program's first bowl appearance in four years. They beat Air Force 33-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Texas A&M starting cornerback Deshazor Everett is also suspended for half of this game and safety Floyd Raven is out for the entire contest. The two were arrested in July on charges of misdemeanor assault and criminal mischief.
The former Southwest Conference rivals are meeting for the first time since that league disbanded following the 1995 season. Texas A&M leads the series 50-27-2 and has won 15 straight meetings.
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