By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
West Virginia University football fans long have been among the most passionate in the sport, which naturally translated into profits for the school through the sale of licensed merchandise, none worn with more passion and pride than WVU football jerseys which ranked among the top sellers in the NCAA.
Always the jerseys offered for sale carried the number — but not the name — of the star player.
The bigger the star, the more the sales, the bigger the profit.
Everyone went to the bank smiling … except for the players risking life and limb on the football field, who was getting the same scholarship he would have gotten without the sale of jerseys.
The injustice — and there is really no other way to put it — came to head this summer. It had begun with a lawsuit against the NCAA and computer game manufacturer EA Sports for using the athletes’ likenesses and jersey numbers to represent them in the games.
TV analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas, speaking from a national platform presented by his role with ESPN, brought matters to a head this summer when he put forth a series of tweets on Twitter showing football and basketball jerseys of specific college athletes being sold by the NCAA Shop website.
The NCAA, caught up in the lawsuit and with public opinion swelling against it, withdrew those items for sale from their website.
Bilas pressed on. With Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel under investigation for violating rules by selling his own autograph, Bilas did a search on ShopNCAASports.com for Manziel, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and found the NCAA had those jerseys for sale even as they challenged Manziel’s right to sell his own autograph.
Bilas took it further to show the unmitigated greed of the NCAA by finding they were selling an autographed photo of former USC running back Reggie Bush, whom the ruling body had investigated, resulting in severe sanctions that included surrendering his Heisman.
And, Bilas found, videos of Penn State football victories vacated by the NCAA due to the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal were for sale.
“We recognize why that could be seen as hypocritical,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said.
Bilas was not the only former NCAA athlete to attack the NCAA for its rules.
Another is the outspoken former WVU placekicker and punter Pat McAfee, now with the Indianapolis Colts and host of one of the nation’s top radio talks shows.
Like Bilas, he came forth through social media.
“Just like every person in the world Manziel deserves 2 OWN his name ... Don't pay athletes ... Cool ... But if somebody is willing 2 pay 4 ur name,” he tweeted.
Then he followed that this way:
“We get mad when athletes are dumb, but when they show any sense of intelligence (Making money off their name), the world explodes.”
And, “Very obvious to anybody with reasonable thought that the NCAA is ridiculous … But some folks still fail to realize it … Doesn't make sense”
As an athlete, McAfee knows how fragile success is.
“You only get so many chances in life when your ducks are lined up. He’s hot now. He has to be allowed to take advantage of it,” he said of Manziel. “True, win the Heisman and never want again but what if he is a bust as an NFL quarterback? What if the zone read isn’t there any longer by the time he gets there?”
Ask Pat White about that.
Should not Pat White have been allowed to take advantage of his collegiate success while he had it?
Certainly WVU took advantage of it. Certainly Rich Rodriguez took advantage of it to run his salary up into millions of dollars a year.
What did White do for WVU. You can quantify it.
In the four years before he came to WVU, the Mountaineers were 28-21 while scoring 1,505 points.
In the four years after leaving WVU the Mountaineers were 35-17 scoring 1,729 points.
In the four years he was at WVU they were 42-9, scoring 1,744 points and leading the Mountaineers to four straight bowl victories.
Should Pat White have been free to sell his own autograph? Did the NCAA and WVU, by taking his name off the back when selling it, really make it a generic jersey?
Would you not like to have owned a Pat White No. 5 jersey with the name WHITE on the back or a No. 1 jersey with the name AUSTIN on the back?
Fair is fair. A college student invents a new app and can profit from it. Why can’t a quarterback inventing a new offense profit, too?
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.