If the NCAA rules Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ineligible for accepting money for autographed memorabilia, the news that broke Tuesday could end up being the smoking gun in the entire case.
Joe Schad of ESPN reported Tuesday that an East Coast autograph broker not only paid Manziel $7,500 for an autograph session, but did so with Manziel's personal assistant, Nate Fitch, nowhere in sight. And if that weren't enough, ESPN reviewed video provided by the broker which indicated Manziel was aware that what he was doing likely wasn't eligibility-friendly.
The latest of three breaking news stories -- all coming from the ESPN platform -- is by far the most troublesome for the Heisman Trophy-winning sophomore. Why? Because sources providing information for the first two reports had no direct knowledge of Manziel receiving payments. In both previous reports, Fitch was involved as something of a buffer between Manziel and autograph dealers. And in perhaps the latest story's most damning passage:
"ESPN heard Manziel say 'you never did a signing with me' and that if the broker were to tell anyone, he would refuse to deal with him again in the future."
The NCAA bylaw in question prohibits student-athletes from promoting or advertising the commercial sale of a product or service.
Schad's latest story, unlike the previous two, alleges direct payment from a dealer to Manziel. And if that can be corroborated to the NCAA's satisfaction, Manziel could find himself on the sideline when TAMU opens the season against Rice in three weeks -- perhaps longer.
The broker, whom ESPN did not identify, said he did not plan to cooperate with the NCAA. The Aggies had better hope he sticks by that plan.
Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread