Finally, the payola paranoia from the autograph scandal that enveloped Heisman Trophy winning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and other stars (Jadaveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater, perhaps?) has faded to the background, behind actual performances. It's likely that Manziel's one half suspension during Texas A&M's season opener won't be a major disincentive to other athletes signing memorabilia during their college years, despite the pall cast over the NCAA by the proliferation of autographed memorabilia bearing team logos and signatures.
The argument from the NCAA is simple: So long as the players aren't paid to sign their names, they aren't doing anything legal. While that may be true, it does little to help the NCAA's case that they haven't used players' individual likenesses to their own benefit.
Still, those signatures come on memorabilia items. What's going on at the annual All-American high school football games might be even more exploitative.
As reported by USA Today -- and easily verified with a quick search on eBay -- there are numerous signed trading cards featuring players who recently graduated from high school and are now becoming collegiate stars readily available for purchase all over the secondary market. These items aren't going for cheap, either; a signed 2012 card featuring then high school senior T.J. Yeldon is currently for sale at a price of $499.99. Plus $2.75 shipping.
Naturally, T.J. Yeldon isn't getting anything from that sale. In fact, he isn't getting anything from signing his name on the cards, either. Yet, because the cards are issued and licensed outside the bounds of NCAA, the companies who are producing them aren't technically doing anything that can threaten the eligibility of the players who the card depict, either.
Leaf, a longtime trading card company, has quietly produced the cards for years, and it's CEO is absolutely unapologetic about both the cards and the pressure that is put on players to sign strips of the cards as soon as they arrive at the All-American game in San Antonio.
"Really," Leaf CEO Brian Gray told USA Today. "If you don't want to be on the card, there's something wrong with you. … These (All-Star game participants) are not even in the NCAA yet. It doesn't have anything to do with the NCAA."
We have no control over the secondary market. I hate that people charge high prices for these things. Now there are a lot of questions about Johnny Manziel, and that tells you a lot about the demand in the marketplace."
To push off all the blame on the secondary market is, at the least, intellectually dishonest on the part of the NCAA. Still, some other players told USA Today that they had no idea what the cards were being used for. Just ask Su'a Cravens, one of the top prospects in the Class of 2013 who will is entering his freshman season at USC.
"I didn't know what the autographs were for," Cravens says. "They didn't tell us anything. They just sat us down and said, 'Sign this.'"