Investigation: The NCAA Student-Athlete Likeness Issue

– Posted by Zurg –

In August of last year, Jay Bilas took to Twitter to expose the NCAA for profiting off its student-athletes without compensating those players.  By searching “Manziel” at ShopNCAAsports.com, you would be brought to this page:

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By searching “Clowney,” you would be brought to this page:

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And the list goes on. He did it for “McCarron,” “Shoelace,” “Tahj Boyd,” “Teddy Bridgewater,” and “Barkley,” showing it includes nicknames and former athletes, as well as the top players in college today.

Actual names, of course, are not included on the jerseys, as per NCAA rules, but it is clearly unfair for the NCAA to lead browsers to the jersey numbers of their favorite players. In an NCAA setting where players cannot profit off their own likeness, how hypocritical is it that ShopNCAASports.com was profiting directly off those players’ likeness? The answer is simple, as displayed by how quickly thereafter the search function on the website was disabled.

The issue over student-athletes being compensated is far from being resolved – and the Ed O’Bannon v. NCAA lawsuit has been and will continue to be a key factor. O’Bannon played basketball at UCLA (quite well; he was the 9th pick in the 1995 NBA Draft), and he is arguing that student-athletes should be compensated upon graduation for the use of their images for commercial purposes. An estimate on how much money this would cost the NCAA is unavailable, but it is believed to be billions of dollars (with a ‘b’).

The lawsuit was filed in 2009, and 4 years later, it was ruled past players could not collectively seek damages over the usage of their likeness, but a modification to the NCAA framework is still in the fold.

Regardless, after all this, the NCAA and its schools should have learned to be more careful about how it uses its players’ likeness – but slipups continue to happen, like it did recently with Syracuse:

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The University responded quickly: “The tweet was posted by a social media team member, and it was taken down because it should not have been posted, in accordance with NCAA guidelines, which are clearly communicated to all with access to social media accounts. It was an honest mistake and when our team realized it was not appropriate, it was deleted in approximately 20 minutes. We will be letting the NCAA know and ensuring something like this does not happen again”.

Well, believe it or not, it didn’t take long for ‘something like this’ to happen again – with the same Syracuse player. According to Darren Rovell and Kate McKenna, these t-shirts could be found for sale IN THE CARRIER DOME with the tag “Dome Merch” on the receipt just days after the Twitter mishap:

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The NCAA has not commented on either issue – and it is more likely than not that the “Ice Man” Tyler Ennis shirts (with his #11 displayed on the back) were unofficial merchandise.

But still, if Syracuse knows that these shirts are being sold, they have a responsibility (per NCAA rules) to make an effort to stop the sales.

While these have all been examples of the NCAA and/or schools profiting off its student-athletes, I have also been intrigued by some of the promotions done by Creighton this season.

On February 7, Creighton hosted DePaul in what the university called “Lumberjack Night”. Celebrating senior Ethan Wragge, Creighton encouraged fans to wear flannel and grow out their beards. The Bluejay faithful were also given foam axes (like foam fingers) with the words “WRAGGE BOMB” written on each one.

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And this Sunday, Creighton will take on Seton Hall and hand out bobble heads of Player of the Year frontrunner Doug McDermott (while supplies last!).

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The NCAA rules state “items that include an individual student-athlete’s name, picture, or likeness (e.g., name on jersey, name or likeness on a bobble head doll), other than informational items (e.g., media guide, schedule cards, institutional publications), may not be sold” as long as “the student-athlete and a authorized representative of the educational agency sign a release statement ensuring that the student-athlete’s name, image, or appearance is used in a manner consistent with the requirements of this section”.

So, as presumed, it looks like Creighton is following the rules here.

I wonder how many Doug McDermott bobble heads will end up on eBay.

What is your opinion on the student-athlete likeness issue? Let us know in the comments or @BEandBeyond on Twitter!

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