The NCAA is getting out of the business of selling jerseys of star college athletes via its Web site, ShopNCAASports.com, the organization’s president said Thursday, after he conceded the practice created the perception of hypocrisy and would be halted.
“In the national office we certainly recognize why that could be seen as hypocritical indeed,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said during a conference call. “The business of having the NCAA sell those kinds of goods is a mistake, and we’re going to exit that business immediately.”
The decision came just two days after ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas, a lawyer and former standout basketball player at Duke, posted a series of tweets that proved highly embarrassing to the NCAA in light of its insistence that it doesn’t profit from the likeness of individual student-athletes.
The NCAA repeated that claim in recent court filings related to a 2009 antitrust suit brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. The suit gained six current Division I football players as litigants last month.
Bilas needed few words to rebut the NCAA. He simply explained via Twitter how to type in a specific athlete’s name in the search function of the NCAA’s online store, then posted the image that popped up: A school jersey with the individual player’s number. Bilas repeated the experiment several times, posting tweets with the jerseys of Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner who’s under investigation by the NCAA for accepting money for signing autographs, and other football and basketball players.
Within hours, the Web site’s search function was disabled, which prompted only more commentary about the NCAA’s apparent hypocrisy in refusing to allow athletes to profit from their own likeness while doing so itself without sharing the proceeds.
Named president of the NCAA in April 2010, Emmert said Thursday that he didn’t know why or when the NCAA got in the business of selling player jerseys on its online store.
“I don’t believe it should have been in that business,” he added. “I don’t think it’s something that’s appropriate for us, and we’re going to exit it.”
The NCAA’s retreat doesn’t mean fans can’t continue to buy jerseys of their favorite college players, whether at campus stores, sporting-goods retailers or on Web sites. It only means the NCAA is dissociating itself from a glaring double-standard amid the scrutiny of an antitrust suit that could put it out of business.
Emmert said the NCAA got no revenue from the sale of player-specific merchandise on its online store but simply served as a middle-man in the transactions.