Sports Illustrated has a long-form article out today about a minor league baseball player-turned-autograph fraudster and the criminal case therein. And part of that article dovetails onto the college football page.
As the excerpt explains below, the fraudster, Cliff Panezich, and his associate Adam Bollinger paid Alabama football standouts cornerback Marquis Johnson, defensive tackle Terrence Cody and cornerback Rod Woodson for autographs, while quarterback Greg McElroy, tight end Colin Peek and running back Ali Sharrief signed for free.
Panezich and Bollinger arrived in Tuscaloosa during winter break, when the football team wasn’t practicing, so finding players required improvisation. The first member of the Crimson Tide they say they encountered—and asked to sign, outside of a dorm—was cornerback Marquis Johnson. The two collectors had 40-odd white-paneled footballs, each emblazoned with Alabama’s logo, laid out in the rear bed of their SUV, and “[Johnson] signed a few,” Panezich says. “[He] talked about getting paid to do the rest. . . . We paid him up front and . . . he recruited everybody else to come and sign. He’d go into the dorm, grab a couple guys—$20, $30, $40, depending on who the player was—and they’d all come sign 40 team items.”
Panezich says Johnson was paid roughly $200, but “not everyone took money. [Defensive tackle] Terrence Cody was probably the biggest. He got paid to sign all the team stuff—and then we heard he was interested in making some more money. So he came out and signed a bunch of mini helmets that he inscribed, like 2X ALL-AMERICAN, or 2 BLOCKED FGS AGAINST TENNESSEE, very specific stuff.” Panezich recalls that they paid Cody around $400 total. (SI obtained cellphone video from Panezich that shows Johnson, fellow cornerback Rod Woodson and tight end Colin Peek autographing items; Panezich says that Peek, as well as running back Ali Sharrief and QB Greg McElroy, signed but declined compensation in order to comply with NCAA rules. Cody, through his agent, declined to comment. Says Johnson: “I never got paid. I don’t know [Panezich].” Woodson could not be reached for comment. When asked if the school had knowledge of the signings, an Alabama spokesman said, in part, “As part of our comprehensive compliance and education program, we routinely review all situations of potential concern and address matters such as these with all of our student-athletes.”)
The alleged signings took place in the break between the Crimson Tide’s SEC Championship victory over Florida and its BCS National Championship defeat of Texas.
Considering that the alleged NCAA violations occurred eight years ago, and that Johnny Manziel was suspended for all of one half for taking money for thousands of autographs during his career, the Tide’s 2009 national championship seems safe from here.