ATHENS -- Georgia is doing what it can to avoid its own Johnny Manziel situation, and it has been doing it for awhile now.
For the second straight year, fans will be prohibited from bringing any outside items to fan picture day for players to sign. In addition, the compliance staff has spoken with student-athletes “who might be popular targets” for memorabilia dealers, according to athletics director Greg McGarity.
“I think we’ve got our hands around that as much as we can. I know (compliance director Jim Booz) has dealt with that appropriately with individuals already this year,” McGarity said.
McGarity didn’t want to name the athletes, but it’s not hard to figure out that quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Todd Gurley would be on the list. There is plenty of memorabilia on eBay and other sites that purports to have their signatures, along with tailback Keith Marshall, receiver Malcolm Mitchell and a few others.
UGA’s compliance office, led by is “very aggressive in that area,” according to McGarity. That not only means addressing it with players, Booz said, but speaking with memorabilia dealers, as well.
“We do communicate with memorabilia dealers (and other entities that use a student-athlete’s name, image or likeness) when necessary and have done so in the past,” Booz said in an e-mail.
Said McGarity, “He is dealing with the areas that we can control, as much as possible.”
For some time now, Georgia football players have been told by the school to personalize any autographs, which it is hoped would discourage anyone from selling them. Booz said players are also reminded that neither they nor their family members can receive anything in exchange for an autograph.
Junior receiver Chris Conley said personalizing every autograph can be a difficult rule to follow, but the hub-bub regarding Manziel will help.
“You’re never taught that when you’re a kid. Someone says, ‘Hey, sign an autograph,’ you just sign your name and walk on,” Conley said. “The fact is, most of those items aren’t being kept by the people who sign it. A lot of those people are just doing the legwork either for someone else to sell it. We as athletes do not know that. That’s the biggest message to guys, is hey, you don’t have to be mean to people and say, ‘No, I’m not gonna sign it.’ Just personalize it to that person and make sure that you save yourself.”
Conley was asked if he or a teammate has ever rejected an autograph request.
“If we haven’t in the past, I think we will now,” Conley said. “With the litigation and everything that’s been going on, and all the attention that’s been brought to this case, I think it’s gonna make everybody think twice. It might make the people who are actually getting the autographs to think twice. If they like the player, they might think twice about what they’re doing.”
Georgia’s fan picture day is Saturday, an annual event at which players sign plenty of autographs. But beginning last year, fans were prohibited from bringing in any outside items, whether it be helmets, jerseys, or just paper. Now they will be given two schedule posters.
McGarity said there was no particular incident that led to the policy change last year, rather, it was an attempt to be proactive.
“It was in place for the very reason that we’re seeing now. For those that choose to do other things with signatures and autographs of student-athletes, other than just keep them as keepsakes,” McGarity said. “That had been sort of the policy at Florida for a number of years. It seemed like the right thing to do, and, obviously, it’s gaining some traction with other institutions.”
Florida has had the same policy on fan day for at least 15 years, according to ESPN.com. Louisville and Miami are among the schools who recently decided to limit what fans can have signed on picture day.
“While it certainly was not a very popular decision with everyone, we felt like it was the right thing to do for the institution,” McGarity said. “And now I think you’re seeing more of the same (policy) around college athletics now.”
There’s a sign at the Butts-Mehre athletic facility asking fans not to ask athletes for autographs, although that wasn’t stopping fans last week while players were doing media interviews.)
The Manziel story has led to plenty of debate nationally about the merits of the NCAA’s rules, and many Georgia players think they should be able to profit from selling their autographs. But the same players also said they know that as long as it’s against NCAA rules, they need to comply.
UGA continues to try to make that clear.
“Our students know the consequences in certain situations arise,” McGarity said. “We do have popular student-athletes where compliance takes it a step further so they’re aware of all the do’s and don’ts and consequences of problems that would occur if you ever decided to obtain any resources from your signature.”