March 24, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Louisville Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng (10) signs an autograph for Destiny Touchine (right) before the game in the finals of the west region of the 2012 NCAA men

To sign or not to sign, that is the question!

Are Cardinal Football fans getting the Heisman stiff-arm?

Earlier today University of Louisville Football program created a stir among fans by announcing that it will not allow autograph signing during the team’s annual fan day scheduled for August 18th. The University of Louisville Football website offered the following on the matter : “Due to the ongoing controversy concerning autographs with high-profile student-athletes, head coach Charlie Strong announced he will hold another open practice for fans and forgo the annual autograph session.  Fans will be treated to a two-hour session with the Cardinals practicing in full pads as they prepare for opener on Sunday, Sept. 1 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium against Ohio at 3:30 p.m.”  Strong was quoted earlier offering an apology to fans stating “”I would like to personally apologize to our outstanding fans.  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.”

While many fans, including me, are excited about another opportunity to see the team practice.  Many fans, including me, are also disappointed that the team is forgoing this tradition. Fan day has been a longstanding event with the University of Louisville and as well as teams across the country. It is an opportunity for fans, both young and old, to interact with the team members they look up to and cheer for. This has also included getting memorabilia signed by their favorite players.  This memorabilia is something that for most fans provides a lifetime of cherished memories.  Its something you can actually put your hands on.  It says you were there, you were a part of it.  Unfortunately among the thousands of fans who attend these events, many of them children, there are the few profiteering collectors whose items on eBay and other websites have created the huge cause for concern.  To me, the only concern is if a player or players received some extra benefit for doing so.

Selling memorabilia of any kind is not something new.  It has been going on for as long we have held items of famous people in high regard.  This goes all the way back to our founding fathers.  The broadside printing of the first President’s final address to the young nation, issued upon his death: titled “Farwell Address” is currently for sale online for $16,000.00.   It is estimated that the memorabilia industry is valued at over 1 Billion Dollars (said in Dr. Evil voice followed by evil laugh).  Globally estimates are as high as 5-7 Billion.  I believe the issue here with the University of Louisville football team is the temptation presented to the athlete earn money for the memorabilia, which  is a strict violation of NCAA rules, or the appearance of such with a program that has risen overnight that includes a potential Heisman candidate.

NCAA rules prevent student-athletes from receiving money, transportation, or any extra benefit or expense allowance not authorized by the NCAA legislation. This includes benefits from an agent or any agreement to have an agent market the player’s athletic ability or reputation in that sport.  The NCAA Division I Manual defines an extra benefit as “any special arrangement by an institutional employee or a representative of the institution’s athletics interests to provide a student-athlete or their relatives/friends a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation.  However, a general rule under the NCAA states that the receipt of a benefit by student-athletes is not a violation of NCAA rules if it is demonstrated that the same benefit is generally available to the institution’s students.   While I would love to delve into the relevance of the NCAA and their rules as well the topic of student athletes receiving compensation beyond the “FULL RIDE” they already receive, I’ll digress for the sake of staying on topic.

The concept of the rule is to uphold the amateur status of the student-athlete and to keep them, as mush as possible the same as other college students – POOR.   I believe in this, after all I wrote a Ramen Noodle recipe book myself.  We ALL need to start somewhere and share in the struggles of making our own way and creating our own world.  To say it is difficult to see these amazing young athletes in the same light as the average everyday student would be an understatement.  They are different, but not because of who they are, it’s because of us and how we sensationalize them.  The Utopian view on this would be that we celebrate our engineering and medical students in their accomplishments as much as we do our athletes.  That the Ladybirds were lined up in the front of the auditorium as law students were completing their bar exam.   That the large co-ed cheer-leading squad was staged at the entrance of University hospital as medical students arrived, or better yet were leaving, from their first internship in trauma where they spent the evening saving lives.  That Louie the Cardinal himself gave his silent cheers during a dental students first practical exam.  This just isn’t the case.

The notion of keeping the student-athletes away from fans, discouraging or eliminating autographs, pictures and the like is in my opinion REDONKULIS!!!  By doing so the school is separating them, and holding them in a higher regard than the normal student.  I believe it’s a wonderful thing when we meet these kids and realize they are just that, kids and young adults.  To meet them at a restaurant, at the mall or movies and get a picture and an autograph is something every fellow student and fan loves.  This brings them closer to us.  Some would say we are protecting the players, and rightly so when things like a championship or coveted trophy(and the money the school stands to earn) hangs in the balance of a student-athletes eligibility, but this should not be so.  This move by the University of Louisville football program seems like a “run and hide” approach to the many issues surrounding college athletes, money, and sports memorabilia.  Could part of the issue be that the athlete, nor program, nor the NCAA receives any gain from the sale of memorabilia.  Greed dictates much in a capitalistic society.   Needless to say there is far more here, too many facets of this fat diamond, for us to dissect in this conversation.

At the end of the day it is the fans, the life blood of a program that will be hurt here.  Many fans are and will be disappointed and disenfranchised.  This could have a negative impact on Coach Strong’s demands for fan participation at Card March and to shut down tailgating earlier to be in their seats for kickoff.  It may significantly hurt Fan Day attendance and dramatically impact the sale of merchandise that was in the past bought for these coveted fan participation days.  Time will tell what this will all mean but I think giving fans the Heisman stiff-arm is the wrong move.  It’s all about money and who or who isn’t getting it.  I’ve often thought that memorabilia is an excellent way for the student-athlete to give back to both fans and the University.  Imagine if the money spent by fans on memorabilia went into a general academic scholarship fund…this would earn millions for the University annually.  Me personally, I don’t like it and don’t agree with it and am disappointed in Coach Strong’s decision on this.  To answer the question in the title, SIGN gosh dag!!!  I will still be there at Fan Day.  I will still be in my season seats but I’m not sure I’m feeling like I want to do more for Coach Strong when it seems he is taking something away from me.  None the less – GO CARDS!!!  I want to close on some tweets I received on the matter:

Open practice scrimmage RT @jondhile: What would be your ultimate @UofLsports fan experience? Autographs? Open Practice? Share your thoughts

@NotWhatchaThink @jondhile Personally I think getting someone’s signature is ridiculous. If your a fan I think a pic w/them is better

@jondhile I can see kids being upset but adults should know ppl are just waiting for the chance to bring guys down. Better safe than sorry

@jondhile it more than likely isnt but it guarantees no issues. I feel like we need to avoid anything that could potentially cause issues

@jondhile true fans are not the ones selling the autographs though, and true fans are the ones getting punished. I see both sides though

@jondhile yes! I think it’s the dumbest thing ever…I am beyond pissed right now

@jondhile @misse713 Totally agree. Dont like the thinking behind it at all! If not for the fans there would be no one to play for…

@jondhile exactly. I think the players should only be able to sign the posters they give out and that’s all!

@jondhile not a huge fan, but I think its just a temporary thing until this ‘Manziel Disease’ blows over.

@jondhile @iCardsFan502 they should at the very least let them sign the official poster they are handing out.


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Tags: Autographs Charlie Strong Fan Day Football Memorabilia Money Ncaa Rules Teddy Bridgewater University Of Louisville

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