Think of it this way: Johnny Manziel was destined to miss half the Rice game no matter what.
If there had been no NCAA slap with a wet noodle Wednesday, Johnny Football likely would have sat out the second half of the game, as Texas A&M piled up points on the overmatched Owls. Instead he will miss the first half, in yet another ruling that leaves everyone shaking their heads and smirking at the silliness of college sports crime and punishment.
It reportedly took six hours of interviewing Manziel on Sunday for the NCAA and school to determine that he will sit out, at most, two hours of football. And thus concludes what will go down as the most overblown college football story of 2013.
Half a game. Against Rice. Not quite worth all the hot air devoted to the investigation over the last couple of weeks.
Half-game suspensions are usually the province of soft coaches who cannot bear to sit a player for a full game. Now, according to multiple reports, the NCAA is in the half-game business as well.
It's a thoroughly thankless and largely useless business to be in.
A half-game suspension smells like a compromise reached by two sides that are both trying hard to avoid being embarrassed. The NCAA had to produce a punishment to show that its turmoil-stricken investigative division isn't completely powerless, and to avoid its second high-profile whiff on a star quarterback in three years (Cam Newton being the other). Texas A&M dearly wanted to avoid a significant hit to the reputation of its Heisman Trophy winner.
So A&M self-submitted the half-game punishment, in hopes that everyone at Kyle Field on Saturday would still get to see Manziel play against the Owls. And the NCAA accepted it, hoping that half a game would at least cut the outcry from fans of other schools by 50 percent.
(I don't think it did.)
Texas A&M clearly was happy with this outcome. How could you tell? Because the school very quickly leaked news of the ruling.
When the first guy with the news is A&M mouthpiece Billy Luicci of TexAgs.com, you know where it came from. The same story then was repeated to other media outlets as well. The immediate spin from "sources" (read: A&M) to ESPN and others is that the NCAA "acknowledged Manziel did not receive money for signing autographs."
I suspect the real acknowledgement is that the NCAA could not prove Manziel received money. Those are not the same things.
Don't overlook this acknowledgement: By proposing a penalty of any kind, A&M admitted that Manziel violated NCAA rules. Why accept any sanction if he's completely blameless?
From what I can gather from those familiar with both the voluminous NCAA rulebook and this case, the part of the rule that tripped up Manziel was tacitly approving the sale of his autograph. The quarterback signed memorabilia that he knew was going to be sold, or did nothing to prevent the sale of those items. Nor did he inform school compliance that he had signed scads of things for guys in the business of selling signed athletic memorabilia.
In other words, he should have known better. Even if he signed all that stuff out of the goodness of his heart.
That apparently will get you a half-game with the modern NCAA, which seems increasingly unsure of itself. Too many self-inflicted wounds and too much enforcement turnover have created the perception of a cop patrolling a high-crime beat armed with nothing but a whistle.
The NCAA fast-tracked the Manziel case through reinstatement to get a decision in time for the season opener, and that's good. But its inability to produce evidence backing allegations that Manziel was paid big bucks furthers the suspicion that the governing body cannot drop the hammer on anyone these days.
This is the same organization that cannot bring itself to rule on a Miami case that began two years ago, and now has Al Golden entering his third season with a Nevin Shapiro cloud hovering over his program. This is the same organization that has failed to close a lengthy investigation of Syracuse basketball.
The half-baked, half-game suspension of Johnny Manziel hurts the NCAA more than it hurts Texas A&M or its Heisman quarterback. And it hurts Rice, which will face a fresh whirling dervish in the second half on what promises to be a hot afternoon in College Station.
The only item of remaining interest in this overblown affair is a future Heisman conversation between Newton and Manziel. One day they can get together and laugh about scrambling out of the scandal pocket, free and clear, leaving NCAA Enforcement grabbing at air as they ran to daylight.