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The Selling of Student-Athlete Autographed Memorabilia: Just Don’t

The following is a guest contribution from Heather Brittany (@HeatherBrit).  Heather is currently a law student at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and alum at the University of Southern California.

The author of this article refuses to give up her John David Booty (pictured) autographed football. Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
The author of this article refuses to give up her John David Booty (pictured) autographed football. Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

I know, you all are dying to get your hands on my John David Booty autographed football, but I’ll never part with it – and if you have memorabilia autographed by student-athletes you shouldn’t either.

As a string of new students prepare to enter the crazy world of college, it seems like as good of a time as any to remind them (and “fans”) about autographed memorabilia.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with getting your favorite player’s autograph.  I know many true fans who have a growing collection of fun memorabilia in their family rooms (guilty).  These fans aren’t the problem…the problem resides with individuals who look to get items signed in order to sell them for their own personal profit.  (Looking at you EBay guy currently doing this.)

First, don’t do that – it’s creepy.  These athletes are just kids who are working their tails off and receiving (at most) a free education (and maybe a ridiculously small stipend).  They can’t make a dime off of their names and you shouldn’t be able to either.  The idea of you swooning over these athletes to receive their autograph, in order to then sell it, is just plain gross.

Second, it is against NCAA bylaws.  Sure, the NCAA may not be the boss of you, but it is the boss of these kids, and you could ruin their careers.  NCAA Bylaws 12.5.1 and state that individuals and commercial entities may not use the name, picture, appearance, or likeness of an NCAA student-athlete for promotional purposes (subject to strict exceptions).  This includes autographed memorabilia (name/likeness + pecuniary gain = bad).  If this rule is violated it could render a student ineligible.

Furthermore, the NCAA places a requirement on student-athletes to actively regulate this.  NCAA Bylaw “Use of a Student-Athlete’s Name or Picture Without Knowledge or Permission” states, “If a student-athlete’s name or picture appears on commercial items (e.g., T-shirts, sweatshirts, serving trays, playing cards, posters) or is used to promote a commercial product sold by an individual or agency without the student-athlete’s knowledge or permission, the student-athlete (or the institution acting on behalf of the student-athlete) is required to take steps to stop such an activity in order to retain his or her eligibility for intercollegiate athletics.”  (Note: this does not apply in cases in which a student-athlete’s photograph is sold by an individual or agency for private use.)  Therefore, not only are you already being creepy and jeopardizing the student’s eligibility by selling autographed memorabilia, you are also being annoying by making them do more work.

So, if you’re a student-athlete, what do you do?

As a preventative measure try to personalize memorabilia as much as possible.  There is a much smaller market for “To Heather” signed footballs than there is for those that simply say “Go Trojans!”  Therefore, the more personalized the item, the less you have to worry about someone hawking it on the internet.

However, you obviously won’t always have the opportunity (or time) to personalize things.  If it is brought to your attention that someone is selling memorabilia with your signature, simply notify your school’s compliance office.  There are people that are paid by your university in order to protect your eligibility.  These people are not the bad guys and are on your side.  Likely, they’ll send a cease-and-desist letter to the seller.  This letter will educate the seller on the NCAA bylaws and request the immediate removal of the item (cease) and to refrain from any future sales of items containing student-athlete’s names, pictures, likeness, etc. (desist).

Moral of the story?  Don’t be a creep and try to make money off of kids… mkay?  Thanks.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

5 replies on “The Selling of Student-Athlete Autographed Memorabilia: Just Don’t”

So accord to the bylaws, the student is in trouble, but not the seller. Does the cease and desist hold any weight?

Good ‘ol NCAA. I was thinking the same about the C&D… honestly, I don’t think it really does as we’re not all subjected to the laws of the NCAA. But, the athlete could in turn sue the seller under the tort of appropriation (use of a person’s name, likeness or identity for trade or advertising
purposes without consent) which may be where the C&D would hold weight.

It’s pretty funny, I remember signing my NCAA papers when I got in college for d1 baseball and when (if) you read through the contract you’re signing it’s made pretty clear they basically own you during your time playing college sports. The problem is, most young athletes don’t read it since they know they don’t have a choice but to sign and don’t listen during the meetings when we sign the papers. so this kind of stuff you never knew existed until the NCAA pops you for it. Basically Im saying yeah I never knew this was in the NCAA bylaws that you can get in trouble for somebody selling your autograph and I even read the contract. Crazy. Good article.

I don’t think it’s very fair that an organization can be the ones to advertise and make the names of these students famous while also making rules that only benefit themselves to have the students be accountable for keeping the money “in house”. Just like all products for sale, college memorabilia have the basic market forces of supply and demand at work. The NCAA have created a demand and expect players to police the supply… create some sort of false scarcity? How convenient! I think it’s another case of an organization having no competition so they can make any rule they want that only benefits them.

You are so wrong in the way you’re presenting this topic and especially the interpretation of the bylaw Like Brett Bird said there is a false scarcity being created here if you try to police it which nobody can do obviously or else according to your views we’d have half of the current college football players ineligible. If you flood the market with stuff then there the demand goes down, but in your model and the wishes of the schools you’re creating a bigger demand with a small supply which invites the total opposite of what you want to stop. The autograph seekers will find a way and most of time it involves truly breaking the bylaws by them and the SA’s in the form of extra benefits. It’s happening daily. Heather you’re cease and desist angle is bogus too for two reasons and you can just look at eBay for starters. One, it holds no water and two if an athlete were to take action legally it opens up a huge can of worms for corruption. Take for example all the Johnny Heisman memorabilia that was being sold after he won the Heisman Trophy. Manziel, was brilliant in trademarking “Johnny Heisman” and can receive a very substantial amount of money for anyone violating his trademark. Now this is where the SCAM can come in for paying players “legally”. A guy strikes a back room deal with Manziel and says we’re going to profit off your name and then you’ll go the route of cease and desist and finally file a lawsuit against us and then we settle on the amount ($300K). It’s a perfectly set up way to go around the system and to pay the athlete “legally”. Further, you’re adding language to the bylaw when you say, “This includes autographed memorabilia”. Nowhere are those words mentioned in the bylaws. I can speak on this issue for hours but if you’re a law student you’re failing on this editorial piece right now simply with that bit I just presented.

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