It took ESPN several weeks and more than a few tries to get there, but it looks like they actually have a legitimate story on Johnny Manziel now. And it's on something that, if proven, could be a very big deal for Texas A&M and its overexposed signal caller.
The NCAA is investigating whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January, "Outside the Lines" has learned. Two sources tell "Outside the Lines" that the Texas A&M quarterback agreed to sign memorabilia in exchange for a five-figure flat fee during his trip to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship. Both sources said they witnessed the signing, though neither saw the actual exchange of money.
There's a lot in that lede, some of which is broken down in the ESPN story, which you should read now if you haven't already. But that gives you a gist of what's being reported.
We shouldn't go much further here without putting a huge disclaimer here: So far, these reports are nothing more than unsubstantiated allegations from unnamed sources. That's a long way from any proof that Manziel violated NCAA rules, as any veteran of the Cam Newton investigation can tell you.
But this is not an ill-advised tweet about traffic tickets in College Station, or questions about whether a college player slept in at a football camp or Andre Ware's tsk-tsking about a college player appearing in a country music video. An NCAA investigation can drag on for months, can distract players and can ultimately end in pretty severe consequences for a program or player.
That said, if this does drag on for months, it might come to nothing. There's no indication in the story that Texas A&M knew anything about it, which could limit any eligibility issues to Johnny Manziel. From everything that's been reported over the last few months, Manziel plans to be in the NFL after this season, which means that his eligibility becomes a moot point after early January. Then again, if the Aggies do end up winning the national title and Manziel is then found to have violated the rules, we could be going back through the looking glass of a vacated national championship.
But all of that's a long way down a road full of "what-if" potholes. For now, ESPN finally has a legitimate story about Johnny Manziel to discuss. Proving that it's something that goes from source of concern to genuine problem for Texas A&M depends on what the NCAA finds, and they never appear to be in a hurry to provide answers.