- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2013


Until late last week, $179.95 bought an “officially licensed” autographed photo of Reggie Bush from the online bazaar slathered with NCAA logos.

Yes, that Reggie Bush.

The same former Southern California running back the NCAA forced the university to permanently disassociate in 2010 as part of wide-ranging penalties for alleged improper benefits. The university’s copy of his 2005 Heisman Trophy was returned. He’s banned from campus. All images and jerseys were removed there, too. Bush’s collegiate existence was effectively erased.

Even the game in the photo, USC’s 2005 Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma, was vacated by the NCAA.

USC isn’t allowed to even mention Bush in the university’s football media guide, but that wasn’t an obstacle to the Lords of Amateurism cashing in through their official store.

The NCAA has lurched from one red-faced scandal to the next since Mark Emmert took over as president in April 2010, but perhaps none illustrates the amateurism charade as starkly as the since-shuttered store. And there’s no better picture of today’s NCAA than the 8x10 of Bush streaking toward the end zone.

In an unusual spasm of common sense, the NCAA closed the outlet after reform-minded ESPN basketball commentator Jay Bilas pointed out a trick to his 500,000-plus Twitter followers. The NCAA long insisted (with a straight face) that those jerseys that happen to feature the numbers of each team’s stars aren’t connected to players. They’re simply a happy, profitable coincidence.

Bilas, though, searched the store by name. And — poof! — jerseys for Johnny Manziel and Tajh Boyd and De’Anthony Thomas and a host of current stars materialized. That blew apart the worst-kept secret in college sports once and for all. These jerseys trade on the names and likenesses of the athletes who wear them, the names and likenesses of the athletes whose interests the NCAA claims to protect.

The search function quickly disappeared.

NCAA rules ban the same players from selling an autograph or team-issued T-shirt because, somehow, it undermines the sanctity of the organization’s made-up amateurism definition when the average scholarship doesn’t come close to covering the full cost of attendance.

But have the NCAA peddle jerseys made famous by the so-called amateurs wearing them? That’s a different story. It started selling gear online in 2003. Cached Web pages show the store promoting player jerseys on the front page — like the No. 12 of former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan — as early as 2007.

This isn’t new. Emmert should know that. In 2011, the president swore that no athlete would be compensated for jersey sales. Not that the athlete and jersey had any connection, of course.

“They didn’t come to college because there was financial gain involved,” Emmert said in an interview with CNBC. “They came because they wanted to come to school and to participate in sports. If they choose to become pros after that, that’s all well and good, but this is not about creating new opportunities for them to monetize their position.”

But the NCAA? Monetize away.

The site offered T-shirts commemorating Joe Paterno’s 400th win that the NCAA vacated. Same for Georgia Tech’s 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference football title take away by the NCAA. We’ll punish you and still hawk your gear because, well, we can.

In a conference call with reporters last week, Emmert admitted the arrangement appeared hypocritical and pledged an immediate exit to the memorabilia business. This is the same tactic the NCAA used to end its relationship with EA Sports earlier this year after the morass of litigation over use of athletes’ likenesses in video games bearing the NCAA’s logo.

A statement by another NCAA executive talked of “becoming aware” of issues with the store. When, exactly, did these epiphanies strike? When Bilas’ fingers touched his keyboard? When the scam went public? When someone could type in Matt Barkley and Kirk Cousins and Andrew Luck and E.J. Manuel and dozens of other standouts and only be separated from the college jerseys by a credit-card number and three-day shipping?

The answer is as obvious as the attempts to squeeze an extra dollar or two out of the failed policies propped up by Emmert’s gang. The whack-a-mole succession of scandals, large and small, points not just to an organization in disarray, but one built on an unsustainable foundation of pretending the only ones who can’t profit from the multibillion business are the product. The athletes. The ones making the jerseys famous.

Removing the inconvenient website can’t hide the problem any more than the NCAA can’t pretend USC didn’t win the 2005 Orange Bowl. After all, there’s a picture.

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