LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Welcome to the big time, University of Louisville football.
When nobody cares about you, having a thing as simple as an autograph signing is no big deal. But when you show up in the top 10, with a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, and signed items start showing up on eBay, it's a different story.
U of L has canceled the autograph portion of its August 18 fan day, offering fans admission to a practice session inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium instead. Cardinals coach Charlie Strong apologized, but said it's what he has determined is best for his players and their eligibility.
Thank Johnny Manziel. When a broker said he had paid the Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner to sign autographs, it touched off a national discussion that apparently has thrown a scare into U of L, because the same broker has posted a limited number of items signed by junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
"I would like to personally apologize to our outstanding fans," Strong said in a statement released by the school. "However, because of the national problem of autographed items appearing for sale on eBay and other websites, we have made a proactive decision to hold an open practice for the fans and forgo an autograph session. We have monitored the situation closely, and we decided to protect the eligibility of our players and operate under the principle that it is not permissible to accept any type of compensation for their autograph or the sale of memorabilia. I know this will disappoint a lot of our fans, especially the young children who look up to our players, but I strongly feel this is the best decision for our football program."
It's an extraordinarily cautious move by U of L.
The University of Kentucky held its Fan Day last week and went ahead with a planned autograph signing. It simply distributed a disclaimer ahead of time that the autographs should not be sold. UK has had items signed by basketball players become big sellers on eBay in the past, with none bigger than the poster it produced of Anthony Davis two years ago.
In general, such statements by NCAA programs have been enough. There's the occasional cease-and-desist action by schools to remove items for sale, but as everyone knows, the entire world is not subject to NCAA rules. Schools can ask, and even persuade eBay to suspend users or remove items, but it's still America, at least for a little while longer, and if you possess an item that is legal to own, in most cases, it's your right to sell it if you want.
Could U of L have gone ahead with its plans? Probably so. It could've had players sign only items distributed at the event, the posters, or approved autograph sheets. It could have had players sign special items, but only for children.
But all of that takes special planning, and was tough to work on short notice. In the end, it was easier to sign nothing, and instead give the fans a show.
Strong said at U of L's media day that he isn't concerned over questions about Bridgewater, but that many universities may take a tougher stance toward autographs in the wake of Manziel's problems.
"It's so hard to control," Strong told WDRB's Tom Lane. "People are always going to ask for your autograph. And Teddy, being the person he is, is going to sign it. And you can't control what happens after you sign that. As long as he hasn't taken any money, which he hasn't, then you can't control what they do with whatever autograph they ask you to sign."
In the end, Strong said it's mainly a problem that comes with success. A high-profile team and player are going to draw an influx of new people trying to reach his players.
"It's very difficult," Strong said. "It's a good problem to have because you're winning. With success, problems come. You have to deal with the agents, now the autographs. It's tough because there are so many people who are pulling. It's not that they go through our players, but they go around our players through a close friend, a family member, someone who has an influence on the payer. We have to talk to our players about it all the time. . . . You can't hide your head in the sand about this, because it's an issue."
So instead of a signature, Cardinal fans will have to be content to see the team in pads one more time before the season opener.
The time for the Fan Day practice has not been announced, but the school says it will distribute 5,000 free special-edition posters and will offer a 75-percent off sale at its Cardinal Authentic store outside Gate 2 of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
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