Saturday, August 13, 2011

Why the NCAA doesn’t care about T-Town Menswear

image The NCAA doesn’t care about Tom Al-Betar and the T-Town Menswear Store. There is no violation of current NCAA legislation and recent interpretations of league rules confirm this.

NCAA by-law 12.5.2.1 states that:

After becoming a student-athlete, an individual shall not be eligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if the individual:
(a) Accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind; or
(b) Receives remuneration for endorsing a commercial product or service through the individual’s use of such product or service.

By the simplest interpretation of this legislation, it would appear that because T-Town Menswear is in violation of NCAA rules, the eligibility of the players involved in the story is in question. But interpretations of the rules permit student-athlete names and pictures to appear in an advertisement of a particular business as long as the promotion or advertisement does not include a reproduction of the product with which the business is associated or any other item or description identifying the business or service other than its trademark, according to one interpretation obtained by IBCR.

“There would be no eligibility consequences for the student-athlete as long as they did not have any knowledge and the school issues a cease and desist notice,” says Stacey Osburn, NCAA spokesperson.

“12.5.2.1 is not intended to prohibit businesses from displaying memorabilia, nor is it intended to prohibit current student-athletes from signing autographs. It is intended to prevent current student-athletes from jeopardizing their eligibility by selling their autographs or receiving remuneration for endorsing a particular product or service,” said another NCAA source who asked not to be identified.

“Student-athletes can’t endorse or recommend a particular business and can’t be paid for using that business’ product or service. If a student-athlete’s image or representation is used by a business to imply endorsement without the knowledge or permission of the student-athlete, the student-athlete or the institution must take steps to protect his/her eligibility.”

“It is not a violation for student-athletes to sign autographs and it is not a violation for a business to display photos, jerseys or other items depicting current student-athletes. We found no evidence that any student-athlete received any extra benefits,” said a statement from Mike Ward, University of Alabama Associate Athletics Director for Compliance.

Contrary to statements made on gossip blogs and internet message boards, ”we discussed this matter with the SEC Office,” Ward said. “We always do in matters of this nature.”

Ward cites by-law 12.5.2.1, but also refers to by-law 12.5.2.2, which requires the university to “take steps to stop or prevent activity that could result in an NCAA violation and a loss of eligibility. The University of Alabama took at least two such steps, issuing a cease and desist letter to T-Town Menswear owner Tom Al-Betar on December 22, 2010. Then, out of an “abundance of caution,” the university disassociated Al-Betar for a period of three years.

So unless the players are endorsing T-Town Menswear or signing autographs on suits, ties, shirts and socks, there’s no violation of the rules as applied by the league. If there was, then the league itself is in violation of its own by-laws. Click here for the Buick Highlight Reel, a promotional advertisement of NCAA athletics sponsored by Buick. The reel features the images and videos of current student-athletes and carries the NCAA trademark, which means that the NCAA has been compensated for its use.

The NCAA is using current student-athletes to sell cars.

Indeed, under their own interpretation of 12.5.2.1, the two gossip websites pushing the TTMW non-story are also in violation of the bylaw by using images of current student-athletes to manufacture controversy and generate traffic to their sites. Take it a step further. Rivals, Scout and 247Sports would also all be in violation of NCAA rules, because each has used images, interviews and direct quotes of current student-athletes to drive traffic and generate paid subscriptions. Those who pay up then get to view additional videos, likenesses and images of current student-athletes. In fact, by using the photograph of current Alabama Running Back Trent Richardson, IBCR would be in violation of 12.5.2.1, because this blog is a Google and Amazon affiliate, displays advertising (which on occasion features a link to the Buick Human Highlight Reel), and has used the image without the student-athlete’s knowledge or permission.

A trademarks and patents attorney who has worked with many SEC and NCAA schools and contacted by IBCR put it this way: “If you, the NCAA or any of those other websites used a picture of a professional like Tiger Woods, Tom Brady or LeBron James to promote the business, they’d have your site shut down and have you in court. But because these student-athletes are deemed ‘amateurs,’ anyone and everyone uses their [stuff].

“In most situations, it’s completely above board. I have autographed pictures of student-athletes hanging throughout my office. A car dealership right around the corner has signed helmets and posters. There are some businesses who stretch the rules, but universities that are supposed to control the rights to their likenesses can’t go after everyone. So they only go after those who go way over the speed limit and pose a risk to the student-athlete’s eligibility and compliance. Ohio State did it all wrong. Alabama did it right,” he said.

UPDATE I: NCAA compliance and legal experts weigh in on T-Town Menswear story.

UPDATE II: See how the NCAA has handled dozens of cases similar to the T-Town Menswear Story.

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(Ed note: Updated to correct quote attributed to Stacy Osburn. I got wires crossed on emails and attributed a general statement to a specific individual. Better QC next time.)

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