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Jameis Winston has ruined the 2014 college football season. The 2013 Heisman winner spent the summer stealing crab legs, kicked off the season being benched for screaming obscenities (and lying about same) on the quad, and now finds himself in more controversy as 2,000 items bearing his signature have surfaced.
While it's unclear how many of the items are for sale (on eBay and elsewhere), the James Spence Authentication website certifies all 2,000 as legit, far more than the 900 as previously reported. (Authentication services claim to certify autographs as a neutral party unrelated to memorabilia dealers. That dealers created the market and the need for such services speaks volumes.)
Not that the number of items matter. If Winston accepted cash for signing the merchandise, he violated NCAA rules - and it's not the volume of signatures, but the size of the payment that determines the penalty. Under the NCAA rules, improper benefits between $100 and $400 result in a one-game suspension; more than $700 results in a four-game suspension. But the rules don't clarify an upper limit that, if surpassed, would force a player to sit out an entire season.
If Winston didn't accept payment outright, but knew the items would go up for sale, punishment would likely resemble that handed down to Johnny Manziel last year. (Johnny Football served a half-game suspension for the season opener.) At the other end of the spectrum, Georgia running back Todd Gurley may never play another game in college for allegedly accepting cash payouts for signing memorabilia. Scouts project Gurley as a first-round draft pick in the NFL this spring, and whatever fallout he suffers is unlikely to make a significant impact on his value.
The Gurley controversy broke when a Georgia local shopped the story around (along with an alleged video of Gurley signing a miniature Bulldog helmet) to various media outlets in an attempt to recoup money lost due to the devaluation of merchandise bearing the running back's signature. Bryan Allen, a former memorabilia store owner, claimed Gurley made similar arrangements for payouts from so many local dealers that the bottom dropped out of the market for the goods. That Allen is a Florida fan may or may not be incidental.
FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher defends Winston, claiming he has "never taken a dime for anything". That Fisher's team tops the rankings and looks to defend the national title may or may not be incidental. Regardless, Winston is probably still the nation's best player and key to FSU's title hopes.
So as we enter Week Eight, most of the talk will swirl around Winston and his latest scandal, his draft status, and comparable issues today and in recent seasons including Gurley but extending to comparisons (despite one paling to the other) of the Penn State disaster. The whirlwind has even sucked in former Heisman winners Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson, both of whom have decried Winston's behavior and faulted him for failing to live up to Heisman standards. That Jackson and Walker played for rival schools (Auburn and Georgia) may or may not be incidental.
Another former Heisman winner, quarterback Charlie Ward, has taken a more positive stance in the press and believes Winston "will learn through his consequences." That Charlie Ward played for Florida State may or may not be incidental.
Yet we expect the ongoing case (or disciplinary review, or whatever the powers involved choose to call it) of sexual assault against Winston will continue to remain in the background for a host of reasons, not the least of which being the slow-play tactics from Winston's camp.That Jameis Winston has retained a premier lawyer to prolong the delay before Winston must appear for a "student code of conduct" hearing may or may not be incidental.
Regardless of all the distractions off the field, the inevitable reckoning is nigh for #5 Notre Dame in Saturday night's match-up against the #1 Seminoles. The Irish are double-digit underdogs (assuming Winston plays; if not, Vegas boards put FSU as favorite by about a touchdown) in Tallahassee, meaning a loss to FSU won't hurt ND's championship hopes much. Lose, and that was what everyone thought would happen. A win would be a huge "statement" or "signature" or some such: an upset, in short. Really, all the Irish have to fear is injury or an outright blowout. Even an ugly loss won't do much damage provided both teams win out.
We're taking a pass on this week's picks. We can't muster up much energy after hearing and watching nonstop coverage of "Jameis State" this weekend. We can only feel for the other teams going at it this weekend.
The Chicken is similarly exhausted, but managed to squawk out a few selections:
Notre Dame at Florida State (by wherever the line ends up)
Texas A&M at Alabama -11
Georgia at Arkansas +4
Washington +21 at Oregon
See also: SportsTuesday: Todd Gurley vs. The NCAA.
Mike Luce is our man on campus - every Friday and Monday. He welcomes your comments.