A wrench was thrown into the works of the Heisman race last night when it was reported that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is under investigation for sexual battery.
Setting aside the seriousness (or lack of seriousness) of the matter for a moment, what a lot of people now want to know is: How does this affect his status in the Heisman race?
There are a few ways this could go.
1. If the matter is quickly resolved before Heisman ballots are due and the perception is that there was nothing to the case, then there will be no negative impact on Winston’s Heisman candidacy. Heisman voters are very fair and will look very closely at all the facts in the case. You might even see a ‘rallying effect’ in the sense that no one likes to see a kid’s name dragged unnecessarily through the mud.
2. If the matter lingers until after the Heisman vote, but the perception is that the case is clearly frivolous and that there’s no ‘there’ there, then it will have minimal impact on his candidacy, though it could cause a few voters to keep their eyes open for alternative candidates.
3. If the matter lingers until after the Heisman vote and the perception is that the case has some validity to it — going a little beyond a sort of ‘he said, she said’ situation — then it’s going to hurt his candidacy a lot. He’ll likely become a regional candidate and lose a ton of his national support.
4. If more information comes out that validates the investigation and paints Winston in a bad light, then he’ll be finished as a Heisman candidate and the race for the trophy will be the least of his worries.
For now, though, Winston remains the front runner to win the 2013 Heisman.
A couple more observations —
— Given that the Heisman race is basically a political election, I wonder if the process is beginning to take on the characteristics of one, complete with dirty tricks. Someone knew about the Winston investigation for a long time and then chose to reveal it just as he became the Heisman front runner. That’s pretty scummy, in my book. You could argue that the same thing happened with Cam Newton back in 2010, when the allegations about him taking money came out just before the Alabama game.
— One thing working against Winston is that, being a freshman, he hasn’t had much time to build his image with the media. Beyond his squinting, a lot of people outside the South don’t know much about him and couldn’t identify him if they saw him. This has always been a problem with freshmen competing for the Heisman — compared to upperclassmen, they’re at disadvantage when it comes to name recognition and building their brand. Johnny Manziel was able to overcome that last year thanks to a catchy nickname and a unique style of play that made him instantly recognizable, especially after his game against Alabama. The danger for Winston is that he becomes known as much for being under investigation for sexual battery as he is for his play on the field.
— If this matter indeed ends up hurting Winston, I believe that Manziel would suffer some collateral damage as well, as the character issue would then be front and center in the Heisman race. Those voters who remember Manziel’s summertime controversies would likely avoid him as well. The beneficiaries in this scenario would be the squeaky-clean AJ McCarron, or Marcus Mariota.
— Here’s a piece from the USA Today that asks a few Heisman voters about the matter. There is clearly some concern.
— TMZ is now alleging that the Tallahassee cops covered this up.