As Johnny Manziel faces potential eligibility concerns over whether he received money for signing autographs, his presence was prevalent at a Chicago-area autograph convention last week.
Several different autograph dealers were selling stacks of Manziel autographed 8x10 and 11x14 photos accompanied with a Professional Sports Authenticator, a rep with an autograph business attending a National Sports Collectors Convention told CBSSports.com.
Autographs for several high-profile college athletes are currently on eBay, not just Manziel. But the Manziel photos were packaged as if they came from scheduled signings with vendors, the rep said, with the signature in the same place on each photo. Manziel memorabilia was "all over the place" during the convention in Rosemont, Ill., that ended Sunday.
“It's rare for this quantity and quality to be out there (from a college athlete),” said the rep, who spoke on condition of anonymity and whose company has been in the autograph business for more than a decade. “At these shows if we see one or two signatures from guys still in school they could have been signed in person with no compensation. There were a number of different dealers at this show all with stacks of (Manziel) photos, all certified as if they came out of a signing. I've really never seen that from a guy still in school.”
To be sure, it's unclear whether Manziel directly has received compensation for his autographs while at A&M. On Sunday, ESPN reported Manziel agreed to sign memorabilia in exchange for a five-figure flat fee while in Miami for the national title game in January.
An autograph broker from the Southeast on Monday told ESPN that Manziel's friend/personal assistant Nate Fitch said Manziel would not be signing autographs for free after signing about 250 items during the season.
Manziel is expected to practice with A&M this month but was not available to the media as the Aggies opened camp Monday. Coach Kevin Sumlin said his staff found out about the investigation Sunday and that A&M is gathering facts.
The NCAA likely will be looking for a paper trail from a dealer to Manziel, but according to a sports attorney with knowledge of the NCAA's investigations, the enforcement staff can build a case with circumstantial evidence since the NCAA's standard of proof is not the same as a criminal standard.
Much of the case hinges on how much the parties involved – Manziel, memorabilia vendors and, to a lesser extent, A&M – cooperate with the NCAA.