Even though they are not allowed to sell jerseys with the names of student-athletes on the back of them because of NCAA rules, colleges have long found a loophole allowing them to circumvent that policy.
They'll hawk merchandise in student stores and online featuring the jersey numbers of their most prominent football and basketball players but lacking the names. For example UCLA fans knew whose jersey they were buying when they purchased a No. 15 basketball jersey last season, yet the school didn't run afoul of NCAA rules because star Shabazz Muhammad's name didn't appear on it.
The blatant hypocrisy of such policies is galling enough to ESPN analyst and noted NCAA critic Jay Bilas that he conducted an experiment Tuesday to expose it. He visited ShopNCAASports.com, typed the names of prominent college football and basketball players in the search box, and lo and behold, their jerseys from their corresponding school and with their corresponding jersey numbers appeared for sale.
It worked for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is being investigated for allegedly violating NCAA rules by accepting money in return for autographing his jerseys. Jersey also appeared for anyone from Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, to Louisville point guard Peyton Siva, to Kentucky center Nerlens Noel.
Bilas even had some extra fun at the NCAA's expense, telling his nearly 542,000 Twitter followers to go to http://ShopNCAAsports.com and type "NCAA Executive Committee" in upper right search box. "This comes up," he wrote. Then readers scrolled down and found a picture of 15 men in clown costumes.
It seemed as though Bilas would keep rattling off names whose jerseys appeared all day until something funny happened about 4 p.m. EST on Tuesday: The search function vanished from the ShopNCAASports.com site.
Coincidence? Uh, no. Especially not with the NCAA embroiled in a legal battle with Ed O'Bannon over the revenue generated from athletes’ likenesses. The site in question is copyrighted by Fanatics Retail Group, but features the NCAA's official logo and links prominently to NCAA.com.
Pretty amazing Bilas could singlehandedly send NCAA officials scrambling to remove the search function from the online store connected to their site. And pretty amazing the NCAA can continue to insist jerseys for sale aren't connected to specific players even when the shop on its own site appears to contradict that notion.