COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Johnny Football was the elephant in the room Tuesday at Texas A&M.
The seventh-ranked Aggies head into Saturday’s home opener against Rice with questions still swirling about whether Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel will play against the Owls. The NCAA is investigating whether he was paid for his autograph, a potential violation of amateurism rules that could threaten his eligibility.
It was the only thing anyone really wanted to talk about on Tuesday when the Aggies addressed the media. The topic, however, was off limits.
Athletic director Eric Hyman said Monday night that he’d instructed everyone in the program not to talk about Manziel. And if that wasn’t clear enough, a member of the sports information department slowly and sternly read the statement, not once, but twice during the session.
Reporters asked anyway, and coach Kevin Sumlin did what Hyman asked.
‘‘We’re not discussing that,’’ he said. ‘‘I thought we went over that right from the beginning.’’
He later added that they have a plan for any number of situations that could happen with their players and team, and that they plan for the possible absence of players every week.
ESPN, citing an anonymous source, reported that Manziel met with NCAA investigators over the weekend. CBSSports.com, also citing anonymous sources, reported that Manziel told the investigators he didn’t take money for his autograph.
While Sumlin wouldn’t discuss Manziel’s availability for Week 1, he had no problem talking about whether football has helped the quarterback deal with everything going on off the field.
‘‘I know he likes to play football,’’ Sumlin said. ‘‘I think the structure that he has had since Aug. 4 has been nothing but helpful.’’
If Manziel doesn’t play against the Owls, the Aggies will use either junior Matt Joeckel or freshman Kenny Hill. Joeckel is more of a pocket passer and Hill is a dual-threat quarterback. Joeckel has thrown just 11 passes in his college career. Hill, who starred at Texas high school powerhouse Southlake Carroll, threw for 2,291 yards and 20 TDs and ran for 905 yards and 22 more scores as a senior last season.