There was almost no Johnny Football. No Heisman Trophy. No two-loss season culminating in a Cotton Bowl win for the Aggies' successful SEC debut. After being suspended for the entire 2012 season, Johnny Manziel started making plans to transfer from Texas A&M. That's when the coach stepped in.
We learned last week that the university—not the athletic program—suspended Manziel in August for his role in a June bar fight, for which he was arrested and charged with counts of disorderly conduct and providing a fake ID. But two questions immediately were raised: Why would a university suspend a student from athletic participation for misdemeanor charges on which he hadn't been convicted? And how was Manziel able to get his suspension overturned a week later?
Manziel says his family hired a lawyer to delay his court appearances, because he was fighting for the starting job in training camp. But he was shocked when, about five weeks after his arrest, he was informed that a school disciplinary board handed down a semester-long “conduct probation,” which would have stripped him of his scholarship and prevented him from taking part in extracurriculars like football.
Manziel believes the board made its decision based on reports of his arrest in the Bryan-College Station Eagle. "They pretty much prosecuted me off the story in the Bryan newspaper," he says.
Those early reports were somewhat vague, and indicated only that something had happened at a bar, racial slurs were involved, Manziel had thrown punches and Manziel was uncooperative with police. The actual police report only emerged in November, and Manziel's involvement was more minimal than had been assumed:
Moody said that when Marvin approached the two males, he began to get close to Steven who had called him the vulgar word. [Manziel] stepped in between Steven and Marvin and told Marvin that Steven had not meant to say the word and that he was taking him home. Moody said that Marvin continued to push against [Manziel] and [Manziel] shoved Marvin in the chest. Marvin then swung at [Manziel] who charged Marvin and began punching Marvin back.
Manziel was initially playing peacemaker, and hadn't used any racial slurs himself. He also didn't throw the first punch. A silly thing to lose a scholarship for, no? Texas Monthly spoke to A&M's dean of student life, who seemed to indicate that Manziel came in for special attention specifically because he's a football player, and his arrest had been widely reported.
"We have situations in a small town where things hit the newspaper, TV, and radio and it comes to our attention and now you are you looking at the university’s reputation. We determine whether we need to reach out and touch those students.”
As the redshirt freshman began making preliminary plans to transfer, he appealed his suspension through the usual university channels, including letters of support from Sumlin and OC Kliff Kingsbury. Sumlin said his letter argued that Manziel had already faced "strict" internal punishment from the team, and would continue to comply. Sumlin notably would not say what that internal punishment consisted of.
On August 14, the dean of student life overturned Manziel's suspension, reducing it to probation. On August 15, Sumlin named Manziel his starting quarterback—putting the lie to any claims that the coach viewed him as just some anonymous backup.