Who Owns Johnny's Hancock?

Let's start right here: It's against NCAA rules for an athlete to profit in anyway from his own image or exploits, whether by selling his or her likeness, signature, memorabilia, or anything else associated with him or her as an athlete at a NCAA member institution. You can't do it when you're playing and you can't do it after your eligibility runs out. To this there is no doubt. If Johnny Manziel or any athlete sold their signature, it's an NCAA violation and that athlete broke the rules. We aren't here to debate whether a foul is a foul. If an athlete sold or benefited from their autograph, it's a violation, a foul has been committed.

Now as to the utility of the rule, whether it's fair, and who actually is allowed to receive benefits and profit is an entirely different matter. Four of the biggest stars in the NCAA universe have been linked in some form or fashion to selling their autographs to brokers. Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgwater, and Jadaveon Clowney have each, in the last 48 hours, been associated with memorabilia (hundreds of pieces of memorabilia) on sports sites. Were they paid? As of writing this piece there has been no direct link payment, but in Manziel's case a mountain of circumstantial evidence pointing to payment is growing.  

Up until Jay Bilas broke the internet yesterday by searching the NCAA Sports Shop by athlete's name, you could go to the site http://www.shopncaasports.com/ type in players name, like oh, I don't know, Johnny Manziel and poof, a number 2 replica Texas A&M jersey would pop up. Do you like Colt McCoy, how about a Texas 12? Love AJ McCarron? Here's an Alabama 10. What about Tim Brown, remember him? Played for Notre Dame, won a Heisman? There you go, an 81 just for you. Coincidence? Doubtful. Since Bilas went HAM on the NCAA's shopping site,  the NCAA has decided to take down the search feature. Before they did you could search Manziel and get this...

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The NCAA licenses merchandise, whether on their site or someone else's. Here's the Amazon Johnny Football page.

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Also, I can BE Johnny Football or Jadaveon Clowney or Case McCoy on NCAA 14 from EA Sports. Now Johnny or Jadaveon can't trade on their name, that would be against the rules, right. They're active players after all. But wait, does Earl Campbell or Tim Brown see any NCAA money from those racks of #20 or #81 jerseys? Nope. They haven't played in over 20 years, but they're still locked out.

Since those grabs were taken, the NCAA has clamped down its NCAA Shopping site, disabled the search engine feature, even removed any semblance of a #2 jersey from A&M page and generally run for the hills. There's a rule in the law, innocent people don't run. Maybe the NCAA isn't innocent and maybe they know it.

Ed O'Bannon was a nice college player for UCLA back in the mid-90's. He helped the Bruins to the '95 NCAA title and had a run in the NBA. O'Bannon was playing a console version of NCAA basketball when low and behold he found out he could play as himself. A built in feature of the game, licensed by the NCAA.

You've probably heard of Ed O'Bannon, you probably haven't heard of Sam Keller. Keller played quarterback at Nebraska in the mid to late 2000's. He got fed up with his  likeness being used in merchandise for which he wasn't being compensated so he sued the NCAA in 2009. O'Bannon filed a separate lawsuit and the two were suits were consolidated with others and we now know it as the O'Bannon case. 

Here's the cliff's notes of the suit according to Clay Travis.  

The NCAA prohibits players from being paid anything for their participation in collegiate athletics. Yet if the NCAA appropriated player likenesses on these video games then they must pay something of value to the players whose images they appropriated. Only then they'll be paying players for their participation in collegiate athletics. Yep, the NCAA will be violating NCAA rules on amateurism.

Here's what's at stake. Everything. In addition to the use of images and names for merchandising, there's also an Anti-trust allegation in the complaint. The crux is that the NCAA and it's licensing arm restricted or foreclosed individuals/class members from receiving compensation for the use of their images. In other words, the NCAA's rules illegally prohibited players from making money off themselves WHILE the NCAA made money selling the player's likenesses.  

Here's the NCAA's real problem, now that a judge in California has certified or validated the class action, discovery will take place, depositions taken and books opened. Ironically, the NCAA has attempted to skirt around the issue by claiming that because players names aren't used, there's no link to any current or former player. It's the same way the MSC Bookstore at A&M has racks of #2 jerseys with no name on the back. That's not Johnny Manziels number, it's just a number. Right. The search engine says different.

You want to find out what's really going on inside the NCAA's Indianapolis headquarters, good, bad, or indifferent? You will. Some lawyer's going to crawl so far up the NCAA's business that we'll need a canary and a mining car to get 'em out. It will be ugly. It will expose things. Dirty secrets will come to light. But regardless the NCAA's losing its last leg to stand on.  

The NCAA is telling Manziel and the rest of us that Johnny Football doesn't own his signature. Not only that, but if you read between the lines of the NCAA's licensing agreeements, the NCAA is telling you that it owns all the players. And not just their signatures, all of them. The NCAA is allowed to make a killing off selling these things, but the players cannot. And not just now, but forever. (Bill Russell has also joined the suit because his likeness was also used in an EA Sports game) According to NCAA rules, you can't be compensated for your play at an NCAA member institution. Not now, or ever.  

Let's say Keller and O'Bannon win, I by the way assume they will settle. They along with the other members of the class, current players, and anyone who could have been a member of the class will be compensated. That's right, compensated for their likeness and use in a video game. That's a violation of NCAA rules. So now, does the NCAA wipe out 15 years of records because players will be compensated for their play. Heck even Bill Russell, the great San Francisco Don gets wiped out.   

I don't think it gets that far realistically, but it points out the folly of the NCAA's position. A player is forbidden from profiting off himself. The NCAA however is not. In terms of fair that's about like asking a running back to block Clowney on third and long. It's a disaster. The NCAA at this point knows it.  

If I'm Manziel and it's possible I call up O'Bannon's attorneys and try to get in on the class action. If I'm Clowney or any NCAA player in any sport I'd do the same. Also, if I'm A&M I don't suspend him until the NCAA drags him off the field and makes me forfeit my games. I don't think it will come to that. Not that Manziel intended this, but he and the others may just be the straw that breaks the NCAA's proverbial back. Power has shifted. It belongs to the players now, because the NCAA got greedy and couldn't live by its own rules. Someone at the NCAA decided that it would be convenient for commerce to allow you to type in an athlete's name and then BOOM, you get their jersey. Name on the back or not, the facade is gone. The NCAA controlled that decision. Try and shift blame, it all comes back to a decision made by someone in Indianapolis.

Clay Travis called for NCAA players to stand in solidarity and sign autographs to dealers the day before the season opens. That would be something wouldn't it. The NCAA is now officially in damage control. They have a hearing set of the 22nd of August just over a week before the season kicks off. EA Sports and the NCAA are trying, once again, to get out. Chances are they won't be able to. They are now wrestling with an octopus, fighting a war on multiple fronts and losing. That's why I don't think they'll suspend Johnny Football or any of the others. The NCAA is trying to survive.

Johnny Manziel, as we've stated here before, is a juvenile, tatted up, moron at times. He was transcendent on the football field last year. The NCAA and Texas A&M have made a fortune off of him. Will the NCAA wipe him out over $7,500.00. Would they declare Clowney ineligible? Miller? Bridgewater? I don't think so. The NCAA can see the writing on the wall or in this case the writing on the jersey. The rules are about to change.