NCAA president Mark Emmert said on a conference call Thursday that the e-commerce site ShopNCAASports.com, which was at the center of a Twitter controversy earlier this week led by college basketball commentator Jay Bilas, would no longer sell team-related merchandise.
“There’s no compelling reason the NCAA should essentially be re-selling paraphernalia from institutions,” Emmert said. “I can’t speak to why we entered into that enterprise, but it’s not something that’s appropriate for us, and we’re going to exit it.”
The online NCAA shop, which is copyrighted by Fanatics Retail Group, drew significant attention this week when Bilas typed names of college athletes such as Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd into the site’s search function and got the replica jerseys of those players to come up.
USA TODAY Sports found the same thing could be done when Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s names were typed into the search box as well. You could even plug in former Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was suspended in 2011 after selling his own memorabilia, and his old OSU jersey would appear.
The NCAA released a statement Thursday night from Mark Lewis, its Executive Vice President for Championships and Alliances, that read, “Moving forward, the NCAA online shop will no longer offer college and university merchandise. In the coming days, the store’s website will be shut down temporarily and reopen in a few weeks as a marketplace for NCAA championship merchandise only. After becoming aware of issues with the site, we determined the core function of the NCAA.com fan shop should not be to offer merchandise licensed by our member schools.”
Though the site is copyrighted by Fanatics Retail Group, it is branded with the NCAA’s official logo and links prominently to NCAA.com, the NCAA’s commercial web site.
The NCAA is currently fighting multiple lawsuits regarding the names and likenesses of college athletes. One of its co-defendants in one case, Collegiate Licensing Co., the nation’s leading collegiate trademark licensing and marketing firm, has denied the link between an athlete’s jersey and number and their individual likeness. On Monday lawyers for CLC wrote, that the firm 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” and that “CLC denies that uniform numbers are ‘indicia of identity’ for student-athletes.”
Steve Berman, a lawyer helping to represent former college athletes in two ongoing lawsuits pertaining to the use of college athletes’ names and likenesses – one of which has the NCAA, video game manufacturer Electronic Arts and CLC, as the defendants, told USA TODAY Sports of the NCAA, “They realize that the spotlight is on them, that’s for sure.”
However, he pointed out that the NCAA’s move Thursday is unlikely to have much of an impact on the broader market for college sports merchandise, including the availability of jerseys with current star players’ numbers on them. He cited the recent sequence of events involving EA’s college football game, in which the NCAA announced it was not renewing its licensing contract with EA for the game and then two days later, more than 150 colleges, conferences and bowl games approved a three-year deal with EA for it.
“The NCAA did the same thing with EA and the schools are still going ahead,” Berman said. “I think you’ll see the same kind of conduct here.”
Emmert said his understanding was that the NCAA itself made no money off the sale of that merchandise, but its Web site was essentially used as an aggregator for schools to sell it. Still, Emmert said in the future that site will only carry merchandise with the NCAA logo, not team jerseys with players’ numbers. “I think the business of having the NCAA sell those kind of goods is a mistake,” he said. “It was inappropriate for us to be in that business, and I can certainly see how that would be seen as hypocritical.”
The web site ShopNCAASports.com no longer will sell memorabilia representing individual college athletes, NCAA President Mark Emmert said Thursday.(Photo: USA TODAY Sports)
Emmert’s announcement of the NCAA’s plan to move away from the jersey sales came as the Executive Committee, which employs Emmert, as well as the Division I Board of Directors finished a series of regularly scheduled meetings in Indianapolis.
Though Emmert’s job security has been in question following a series of NCAA missteps, Michigan State president and NCAA executive committee chair Lou Anna Simon said he was “an integral part of our process to move forward to strengthen the NCAA as the voice of college sports.”
Among the key points to come out of those meetings was continuing the discussion about possible changes in the Division I governance structure. Commissioners of the five most powerful football conferences have talked about establishing a new legislative division in which they could more easily make rules without pushback from smaller, lower-revenue schools, many of which doesn’t even play in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch said those discussions would take place at next January’s NCAA convention, with a target date of next August to implement any new structure.