SBD/August 7, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

NCAA Website Search Draws Controversy, As Players' Names Find Numbered Jerseys

Searching "Johnny Manziel" located a page with Texas A&M No. 2 jerseys
A customer yesterday on the NCAA's e-commerce website, ShopNCAASports.com, looking for "one of the many Texas A&M No. 2 or South Carolina No. 7 jerseys for sale" would have discovered "the best way to find them was to type in the words 'Johnny Manziel' or 'Jadeveon Clowney' into the search box," according to Litman & Berkowitz of USA TODAY. That comes after Collegiate Licensing Co., one of the defendants in a pair of lawsuits concerning the use of college athletes' names and likenesses, said on Monday in a court filing that "products bearing college athletes' jersey numbers do not represent actual college athletes." Though ShopNCAASports.com is operated by Fanatics, "it is branded with the NCAA's official logo and links prominently to NCAA.com." The search function "quickly became a hot topic on Twitter as ESPN analyst Jay Bilas posted a stream of screengrabs from the site." Bilas said, "They're selling their jerseys, pretending that it's some sort of coincidence that all the value is in the school name and there's no value in the player when just coincidentally, every time you see a jersey, it's the team's best player." By around 4:00pm ET yesterday the search function on the site "had been disabled." Despite that, users "still could access player-specific pages on the site late Tuesday by adding the suffix /search/player_name to the main URL." CLC lawyers have said that the company denies "that it has allowed former players' indicia of identity to be utilized in connection with sales of replica and actual jerseys and other apparel offered for sale." CLC also denies that uniform numbers are 'indicia of identity' for student-athletes" (USATODAY.com, 8/6).

NUMBERS NEVER LIE: In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff notes the NCAA also has "insisted jerseys for sale and likenesses on video games are not connected to specific players." The "seemingly conflicted message: the NCAA can cash in on replica jerseys that the organization believes have value because players such as Manziel and Clowney wear them." But the NCAA is "essentially telling a federal judge in the Ed O'Bannon case that Manziel and Clowney don't exist" (K.C. STAR, 8/7). In Raleigh, Laura Keeley writes the website search exposed by Bilas is "just the latest black eye" for the NCAA (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/7). SI.com's Andy Staples writes the NCAA's rules concerning players' publicity rights are "artificial constructs designed to cap the wages of the labor force, keep the IRS away and enforce a quaint-but-ludicrous notion of parity in the upper reaches of football and men's basketball" (SI.com, 8/7). FOXSPORTS.com's Clay Travis writes, "It's only a matter of time before NCAA president Mark Emmert channels Marie Antoinette and responds to questions about why players have no right to buy bread off their autographs by suggesting that the players eat cake instead." College football is "entertainment and its governance structure is far less serious than just about any historical example of revolution, but just because college football is entertainment doesn't mean it should be subject to absurd and illogical rules" (FOXSPORTS.com, 8/7).

BLURRED LINES: Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said, "I think people believe that, in some ways, if you're commercial, therefore the players are professional. I don't believe that." Delany said of Manziel, "He knew the rules of the game when he came (to Texas A&M). If you don't agree with the rules of the game, he can go into another game. We shouldn't stop that. ... As long as you're in a system with a thousand other athletes, you abide by the rules. You don't get to pick and choose. I'm in favor of increasing the cost of attendance, but I'm not ready to go beyond that" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 8/7).
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