The reports this week that Johnny Manziel was paid by autograph brokers to sign items for later sale might merely be the tip of a very large NCAA eligibility-threatening iceberg, as the collection of one eBay memorabilia salesman makes clear.
As first documented by Busted Coverage, highly rated eBay user "the_hub_collectibles" has 19 verified items for sale autographed by Manziel. But he also has 19 items available signed by South Carolina Heisman candidate Jadeveon Clowney, and 11 signed by Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. There's also a handful signed by Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.
One such Clowney item:
A South Carolina official told CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman, regarding the memorabilia, that "our compliance folks are aware of it. We haven't had an indication that there's been a violation."
The State reported Wednesday that Gamecock compliance has looked into multiple instances of Clowney memorabilia appearing on eBay -- including a photo of Clowney signing items in a hotel room, in what might now be an unfortunate echo of the ESPN Manziel reports. But associate athletics director Chris Rogers told the paper that they have yet to find any violations.
"We have investigated things that have been on EBay with him and student-athletes before," Rogers said. "In the situations I can say we looked into, there was no further for us to go, and we determined there was no violation ... [B]asically what we are trying to ascertain is, 'Is there credible enough information for us to investigate further?'
"If you look up Jadeveon Clowney there are hundreds and hundreds of hits. We are trying to ascertain which of those are worth pursuing and which are not."
Steve Spurrier himself reportedly said on ESPN that he wasn't aware of Clowney ever accepting compensation for his autograph.
Ohio State also responded to the appearance of Miller's items on eBay, with athletic director Gene Smith telling the Associated Press the school had investigated the appearance of the items and found no wrongdoing.
"We looked at it and most of the stuff was from the Big Ten Kickoff luncheon," Smith said, referring to the league's media days and claiming the items were put up for sale without Miller's knowledge. "There's no issue there ... But we're not the only school -- there's a bunch of athletes up there and I'm sure [their schools] are all checking."
The Gamecocks' response is not a surprise. Before leaping to conclusions, college football fans should consider that:
1. There's no indication "the_hub_collectibles" is in any way connected to the ESPN reports that brokers have paid Manziel for his autograph.
2. There's no evidence that Clowney or Bridgewater was paid for their autographs (and precious little hard evidence Manziel was, either).
3. Though not simple, it's also not hard to imagine a dedicated autograph broker using associates to obtain 19 signed items through NCAA-legal means, such as Fan Days or other meet-and-greet opportunities.
So in and of itself, even if one broker selling nearly 50 items signed by three players looks suspicious -- that's a lot of effort on the part of the players to help out the brokers for nothing in return, even if it appears Manziel was willing to make exactly that kind of effort -- there won't be anything to see here, NCAA-wise, unless something more substantial surfaces.
The problem is that as more and more of these items become public knowledge, the more likely it becomes that the NCAA finds either a paper trail or someone willing to talk -- and to say that he's paid a superstar to sign for him.