Manziel friend: No more free signings

Updated: August 6, 2013, 11:47 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

A prominent autograph broker on eBay, based in the Southeast, said Nate Fitch -- Johnny Manziel's friend and personal assistant -- approached him last season to let him know that Manziel would no longer be signing autographs for him without compensation, according to ESPN's Joe Schad.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
ESPN sourceJohnny Manziel signs autographs in a hotel room in a photo provided to ESPN by a source.

The broker, who spoke to Schad under the condition of anonymity, said Manziel signed about 50 items for him at the Texas A&M team hotel the night before the Nov. 10 Texas A&M at Alabama game. The person said Manziel then signed about 200 more items a few days later, with the broker saying he did not compensate Manziel for either of those sessions.

Besides saying Manziel would no longer sign autographs for free, Fitch, according to the broker, also said he could provide other current standout college football players for autograph sessions in which the players would need to be paid.

The broker, who has shown ESPN a photograph of Manziel signing autographs in what the broker says is Manziel's hotel room, told Schad he declined to answer six calls from the NCAA.

The broker said he stopped using what is known in the industry as a "proof pic" when an attorney representing Manziel contacted eBay and then the broker spoke with that attorney. The broker said JSA, a leading autograph authentication company, was paid $7 apiece to authenticate all of the broker's Manziel signatures.

On Sunday, "Outside the Lines" reported that the NCAA is investigating whether Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January.

Two sources told "Outside the Lines" that Manziel agreed to sign memorabilia in exchange for a five-figure flat fee during his January trip to Miami for the BCS title game. Both sources said they witnessed the signing, although neither saw the actual exchange of money.

Three sources said Manziel signed photographs, footballs, mini football helmets and other items at the request of an autograph broker named Drew Tieman. Two sources, who are aware of the signing arrangement, told "Outside the Lines" that Tieman approached Manziel on Jan. 6, when he landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to attend the game between Alabama and Notre Dame the next day.

After that meeting, three sources said, Manziel, accompanied by Fitch, visited Tieman's residence and signed hundreds of items in the main room of the apartment despite the fact that there were many people in the room. Before Manziel left South Florida, after taking in the title game, he signed hundreds of autographs more, one source said.

The source also told "Outside the Lines" that James Garland, the NCAA's assistant director of enforcement, in June contacted Tieman and at least one other person associated with the signings. The source said Garland, who did not return calls from "Outside the Lines" for comment, told the person he wanted to talk about Manziel signing items that had appeared for sale on eBay. An NCAA spokeswoman cited NCAA policy to "Outside the Lines" and declined to comment.

Joe Orlando, president of PSA/DNA, told ESPN that his company has authenticated about 2,000 Manziel signatures.

"It seems like a lot from a relatively small group of submitters," Orlando said.

Orlando said he stands by his company's authentication of Manziel items, which range from photos to footballs to helmets.

If the NCAA investigation finds Manziel has violated NCAA Bylaw 12.5.2.1 -- accepting money for promoting or advertising the commercial sale of a product or service -- he could be ruled ineligible.

On Monday, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters that "our university is doing its due diligence to find out the facts." He said he learned of the allegations Sunday, when ESPN reported the story.

"Your reaction is one of, 'OK, let's find out the facts,'" Sumlin said. "Like I said, our university is involved in that. They're doing their due diligence, and until we have the facts, whatever your reaction is isn't really important."

A&M confirmed Monday night that it has enlisted the Alabama-based law firm Lightfoot, Franklin & White to represent the school during the investigation by the NCAA. It is the same law firm Penn State and South Carolina hired in recent years to represent both schools during their respective sanctions cases with the NCAA.

Manziel practiced when Texas A&M hit the field for the first time Monday afternoon for training camp. Sumlin said his repetitions will not be affected and he'll practice the same amount as he would if he weren't being investigated.

Sumlin also said he would not speculate when asked whether Manziel will be his starter Aug. 31 against Rice in the Aggies' season opener, if the NCAA's probe is still ongoing at that time. If Manziel participates in games and is later deemed to have been ineligible by the NCAA, it means the Aggies would be risking forfeiture of the games in which he participated.

"There's a lot of people involved in that decision [to play Manziel]," Sumlin said. "I'm not here to speculate on what's going to happen or what can happen."

Manziel was seen laughing and talking with teammates before they lined up to stretch at A&M's first practice Monday afternoon. The Aggies practice to music, and when the first song of the day, the track "Versace" by Migos featuring Manziel's buddy rapper Drake, came on, the quarterback looked carefree as he bobbed his head and bounced to the catchy tune.

The media were allowed to watch only the first 20 minutes of practice, and there were no full team drills during that time.

Manziel threw a few passes while the quarterbacks and receivers worked alone on a section of the field surrounded by dozens of reporters.

ESPN's earlier attempts to reach Manziel were unsuccessful. Tieman did not return multiple calls and text messages. Fitch could not be reached.

In a statement Sunday, Jason Cook, Texas A&M's senior associate athletic director for external affairs, said, "it is Texas A&M's longstanding practice not to respond to such questions concerning specific student-athletes."

The value of Manziel is clear in the memorabilia and appearance market: Independent merchandiser Aggieland Outfitters recently auctioned off six helmets signed by Manziel and Texas A&M's other Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow, for $81,000. Texas A&M's booster organization, the 12th Man Foundation, sold a table for six, where Manziel and Crow will sit at the team's Kickoff Dinner later this month, for $20,000.

Information from ESPN's Joe Schad, Darren Rovell and Justine Gubar and GigEmNation's Sam Khan Jr. is included in this report.

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