The forces of common sense, or at least equal treatment under whatever passes for NCAA law, have won a victory. The NCAA has announced it will no longer sell team-specific memorabilia and merchandise at its website, ShopNCAASports.com.
The issue came to light as the NCAA began investigating Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for allegedly profiting off the use of his own name while selling autographs. However, as it turns out, the NCAA was also profiting off the use of Manziel's name through the sale of both uniform-style jerseys and direct-reference t-shirts. Multiple searches of various players' names on the shopping site took users directly to uniforms with those players' numbers.
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When asked about the incongruity of such a policy, NCAA president Mark Emmert responded with humility and an awareness of the unfortunate appearance of impropriety. Kidding! Emmert acted in classic NCAA fashion: like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar who responds by saying that cookies are unhealthy and he was just reaching in there to throw them away. To protect the children, of course.
"There's no compelling reason the NCAA should essentially be re-selling paraphernalia from institutions," Emmert said in a Thursday conference call. "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."
Emmert's words couch the decision as a matter of market segmentation and business strategy, not hypocrisy. But it's impossible to see this as anything but the NCAA getting called out on its self-serving policies.
ShopNCAASports.com isn't technically an NCAA property; it's owned by Fanatics Retail Group and serves as an aggregator of several shops. But the site has the NCAA's imprimatur all over it. The NCAA is now, at long last, sensitive to public impressions that it may be taking unfair advantage of the labor of its workforce, as multiple lawsuits involving unfair usage of players' images are working their way through the courts.