Senior College Football Columnist

Manziel case shows coaches how much more access there is to trouble

Even though they have been consumed by the start of training camp, several college coaches told CBSSports.com that they've tried to keep an eye on the Johnny Manziel saga and the reported investigation into the Texas A&M star.

Manziel is still practicing with his teammates, but there now have been several reports detailing allegations from memorabilia dealers claiming they paid the ubiquitous Heisman Trophy winner thousands of dollars in exchange for him to sign various items. On Tuesday, one broker reportedly showed ESPN two video clips taken on a cell phone during the autograph sessions, ostensibly for authentication purposes.

At the center of the Manziel case is one of his childhood buddies, Nate Fitch, whose Twitter feed is littered with photos of living it up on the road with the Texas A&M quarterback. According to Outside the Lines, an autograph broker alleged that Fitch said that Manziel would no longer autograph items for the broker free of charge. Fitch, the broker claimed, wanted payment for Manziel to sign more memorabilia.

This off-season, Manziel--or his buddy certainly weren't hard to find. Thanks to social media, there are now pretty well-work paths to a college football player's inner circle.

"You hear some of the details and you really get worried about who's talking to your players, but also the people close to them," one coach at a BCS program said. "You can't babysit them all the time, and you don't want to, but you think about how some people will play into their egos and then you could have a big problem on your hands."

Another head coach from a BCS program echoed that sentiment, saying he often checks his players' Twitter feeds looking for anything suspicious.

"I am totally concerned by it," the coach said. "People tweet at them and you know that's not where it always stops. Maybe they're in the town. 'Hey, let's go to dinner. ... Hey, let me help you.' There's all sorts of bad possibilities.

"I'm not naive to think they're not asking our guys for autographs and who knows what else that may lead to?"

The three head coaches CBSSports.com spoke to Tuesday all agreed that the climate around college athletes is more problematic now than it was just two or three years ago when several college football stars got mixed up with agents.

"It would take a 5-year-old less than three minutes to find out on Facebook who [a player's] mother is and he can send her a message," said one younger head coach, who wondered how his players would handle autograph situations. "I'm not sure how well some of these 19-year-olds really know the rules. We have them meet with compliance where they hear about point-shaving, gambling and agents, but are they going to really think they're breaking rules if someone asked them to sign a few pictures for $10 or $20? Honestly, I think half of them would say you can, and probably 100 percent would do it thinking they won't get caught.

"We tell them all the time how things have changed. With Twitter and smart phones, everyone's a reporter and everybody wants fame. Listen to some of these [brokers] coming forward to talk about Manziel. They say, 'Oh he's a great guy and I don't wanna get the kid in trouble,' but they're talking to reporters and saying 'Here's how you spell my name.'"


Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.
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