Share the Wealth
Should Athletes Get Sales Benefit?
Coral GAbles, Fla. — From his small store, Harry Rothwell can almost see the University of Miami athletic complexes. It’s maybe a long foul ball from Alex Rodriguez Park down Ponce de Leon Boulevard.
Inside allCanes, like many other stores of its kind, is an assortment of Hurricanes gear from T-shirts to office supplies. Then there are jerseys, which inevitably, include numbers.
And there’s no coincidence allCanes’ website is topped with an ad reading, “Be the first to get the EIGHT.” Though a name is missing from the back, there’s no mistaking it’s prominently featured because star running back Duke Johnson wears the No. 8. Revenue from its sale is spread among many parties but not Johnson, since NCAA rules prohibit it.
A growing number of college football observers are questioning whether the NCAA rule is fair.
“The players actually do deserve something for having their jerseys made,” Rothwell said. “Nobody can go to our store right now or any store and not know the No. 8 is probably being made this year because of a guy named Duke Johnson. So I tell players over the years, I know exactly how they feel. But we’re playing within the rules that are out there.”
A limited edition No. 8 jersey sells for $119.99 at allCanes, while replicas of No. 31 and No. 57 are marked down from $59.99 to $29.99.
The online shop for the Hurricanes’ official athletic website has an assortment of jerseys for $89.95 apiece. The top row includes the No. 8, worn by Johnson.
“You have to pick some number,” Miami athletic director Blake James said. “It’s one you have to look at what fans are going to want to wear. Those are guesses many times as to what number the fans are going to want to buy. You try to get an idea from the retailers with general ideas.”
The NCAA’s official website contained a link to an outside company selling jerseys until last week. But after it was discovered users could type in star players’ names to find their jersey, that option was pulled from the NCAA website.
Then there’s the class-action lawsuit filed by former and current college athletes against the NCAA. The group, led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, sued over the millions made commercially from their images. They seek compensation for all uses of the image after eligibility is exhausted.
Rothwell, however, is looking at alternate ways of returning the favor. He’ll pay former Miami basketball star Shane Larkin, who is now in the NBA, to sign autographs in a few weeks simply because he sold so many of his No. 0 jerseys.
“I would love to see, for the players whose jerseys are being made, that there’s some kind of stipend given when they leave or graduate,” Rothwell said. “It’s the same thing with the EA Sports games: Put something aside for them because there’s money being made off their successes. The universities tend to think, ‘It’s our U, it’s our Gator head, it’s our Seminole head, that they’re mine.’ But our sales and sales across the country go up when our team is winning.”
And the star players find their numbers on racks more commonly than anyone else. Seeing his jersey for sale reminds Johnson of his responsibility to produce. Miami starting quarterback Stephen Morris said it’s an honor to see his No. 17 jersey in stores, and his mother tries to buy every one she finds.
But is he owed a cut of the profits?
“I don’t really know what to say about that,” Morris said. “The decision is going to be made when I’m out of the NCAA anyway. I don’t have a say in it. It’s something that’s a business aspect; you have to understand that and move on from it.”
James sees no reason for controversy unless the players’ names are involved.
“It’s hard to understand why people pick the numbers they do,” he said. “With that said, we can only make a couple of numbers. So you just have to randomly pick a few numbers. Obviously, you look at the numbers you think people will wear.”