Without hard proof that Johnny Manziel received money for signing memorabilia -- something the NCAA will ultimately find very tough to get -- the Texas A&M quarterback should find his way onto the field this fall for the Aggies.
But in the unlikely event the NCAA declares Manziel ineligible for the 2013 season, the question for Johnny Football would be this: To play or not to play?
With some help from Russ Lande, director of college scouting for the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes, we examine Manziel's two options:
1. Sit out season
For a player faced with bridging a season without football before NFL draft eligibility, Manziel would almost certainly go in this direction, the safest and smartest avenue.
Upside: Manziel could get away from the SEC spotlight and prepare for his draft eligibility in as much seclusion as he could stand (not much at all, possibly, but the option remains). Perhaps just as important as honing his skills through workouts, Manziel could also get some professional help with image repair. His round of interviews with NFL clubs, whenever it comes, won't be easy.
Downside: The one place Manziel needs to be most in order to keep his career on track seems to be the football field. His reputation up until winning the Heisman Trophy was as a dazzling football player. The negative elements to Manziel's reputation didn't develop until he was away from the sport, and Texas A&M officials undoubtedly have counted the days until kickoff in hopes a helmet can once again prove it can contain Manziel better than they can. It's been almost eight months since Manziel played. Could his career survive eight or nine more before next year's draft?
Lande's take: "I think his best course of action would be to try to hook up with a reputable agent who could put him in a good spot to start working, training, and get him around people to help him with some of the behavior that's obviously led him to this point. I would tend to lean away from some of these huge sports agencies. I would tend to say he needs to find someone who is a little smaller, but reputable within the league, who can offer him one-on-one time and advice. ... I think his best avenue would be to work out."
2. Find way to play football
Though few would likely advise it, Manziel's other option might be to play somewhere this fall. NAIA football? The NCAA couldn't touch him at that level, but there would be nothing to gain by playing competition just a step ahead of high school ball.
The CFL? Also seems unlikely, but it's been done before. Lande noted that former Florida State receiver Tamarick Vanover jumped to the CFL in 1994 when he faced NCAA ineligibility. A year later, he made the jump to the NFL, drafted in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs. And at least someone in the CFL, it appears, has considered it:
Upside: Competing and succeeding at a higher level couldn't do anything but help Manziel's draft stock. The wider field and open style of offensive play would certainly suit him, and the intrigue around his NFL potential would only build if he were able to win at that level.
Downside: Injury, plain and simple. CFL pay isn't likely what Manziel would be looking for in terms of long-term security, and the last thing he would need matched with questions about his maturity and makeup would be doubts about his durability.
Lande's take: "I don't think that's likely, and I would not recommend it. ... (However,) if you were to go up there in the next month, get coached a little, and prove to coaches he can be mature and responsible, so that when NFL teams inquire about him they can know what he's done."
Lande added that if Manziel were to join the CFL, he might be wiser to stay there for two years rather than one, and not declare for the NFL Draft until 2015. "Why not get a little football under your belt so that you can prove you're not a one-year wonder?" he said.
Of course, the CFL talk could all be for naught. ESPN reported Monday that the Manziel camp has a contingency plan in place in case the quarterback is ruled ineligible for any length of time, and that the plan does not include playing football games for anyone other than Texas A&M.