CRAWFORD | Forget the signing scandal, why pay for an autograph? - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | NCAA's budding signing scandal: Why pay for an autograph?

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There are a bunch of autographs I think it would be cool to have.

There is not a single autograph I can imagine paying for.

College football's latest controversy stems from a practice I simply do not get. Why would you pay for another person to sign his (or her) name on something?

Johnny Manziel stands accused of taking money to sign multiple items. The same broker making allegations also has, on eBay, listed a smaller number of items from other college players, like South Carolina's Jadaveon Clowney and even Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.

U of L was compelled this afternoon to release the following statement:

"We are aware of many of the items for sale online that have been autographed by several of our student-athletes with remaining eligibility. As we are required to do by NCAA rules, we regularly review these items and send correspondence to the seller(s) requesting they remove the item for sale.

"We have and continue to educate our student-athletes that it is not permissible to accept any type of compensation for their autograph or the sale of memorabilia. We have spoken with Teddy Bridgewater and we are comfortable that no violation has occurred."

"Comfortable" is an interesting word. I'd be a little less than comfortable about a handful of mini-helmets and footballs all with autographs in pretty much the same location. It's possible that someone plunked the items down in front of Bridgewater at a signing somewhere, or multiple people had him sign. But in that case, you'd usually see them signed in different places. The nature of eBay is such that you're not sure exactly whether they have six helmets on hand or simply are running multiple auctions. Do I think Bridgewater got money for signing items? I don't believe it, knowing him, and how savvy he is about these matters. Photos on eBay show him signing items at various places around Papa John's Cardinal Stadium or the football complex. But I also don't know that putting out a statement that all is fine is going to deter a closer look.

Regardless, the more unbelievable thing is that someone would pay the asking price of $250 for one of those things.

I get it in a few cases. Those who stood in line for Rick Pitino  or John Calipari or Charlie Strong to sign limited edition Maker's Mark bottles. I can see it if the object being signed has special value.

But this wholesale profiteering off the autographs of athletes, to me, is strange. When former U of L players Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng found themselves in a situation where they were signing for money from school kids, it was a bad situation, and one they should've made sure to avoid.

I'll admit, I don't like the entire practice. You play for fans for three or four years (or, in the case of several Kentucky stars, one), end your eligibility, then begin the process of fleecing people for your autograph.

It rubs me the wrong way. Until you look at the other side of the table, and people are lined up to pay any amount to get the autograph.

In the old days, it went like this. If you liked a player, you could send him a postcard and he'd sign it and mail it back. No charge, except for postage. It was a pretty innocent thing.

Today, it's different. Like everything else, it's a business. After the University of Louisville's first football practice of the season, dozens of fans lined up to try to get items signed. Coaches told them that Fan Day will be August 8, but that players didn't have time to stop, they were scheduled to be in their position-group meetings.

Many of the people in line are professional autograph seekers, who turn around and look to sell whatever they have gotten signed for big money. That's what you see on eBay and elsewhere.

Joe DiMaggio said he made as much at signing shows as he did from playing baseball. Pete Rose never scribbles his autograph for free. I like what Steve Martin used to do. He had his autograph on business cards, which he would hand to people bearing the words, "This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny."

As the financial stakes have gone up, athletes have become more reticent. Michael Jordan rarely signed during his playing days. Bill Russell rarely signs, period.

Regardless, it's difficult for me to move onto the question of whether college players should be allowed to make money off their own signatures, because I still can't get to the point where I believe anyone ought to be willing to pay for those signatures in the first place.

If it's someone who has passed away, I understand it a little better. Or someone who is rarely in this country, or one item from a favorite star here and there. But standing in line for a kid who just finished college? I'm sorry, I can't understand it. And I'm not going to.

Maybe this is one problem we can all do something about. Just make this deal with yourself. Don't pay for anyone's autograph, then we can all move on to the next problem.

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