Alabama responded Thursday after a blog post included a picture of signed memorabilia from current Crimson Tide players being sold in a Tuscaloosa, Ala., store.
A story was published Thursday morning on the blog Outkick the Coverage with a picture of signed items from Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon, among others, at the T-Town Gallery in University Mall. In the report, it was not identified where Tom Al-Betar, the store's owner, had procured the merchandise. It's an NCAA violation if current players sell the autographed merchandise themselves, either directly to a consumer or through a third party.
"We are aware of the story produced (Thursday)," Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said in the statement (via AL.com). "As part of our ongoing compliance efforts, our compliance department looks into everything that warrants concern. That effort is diligent and all-encompassing, and requires constant communication and education regarding all potential issues."
When reached by CBS Sports, Al-Betar said that "there's nothing to worry about" and fans "come in with stuff."
"They don't belong to no football players,” Al-Betar told CBS. “They sign it over there and they will come here. Most every year they do the same thing.”
On the T-Town Gallery site, there are 13 pages worth of Crimson Tide memorabilia listings. In the photo in the original post from the blog, Outkick the Coverage, the signed jerseys of Cooper and Yeldon were at the front of the store along with a signed jersey from quarterback AJ McCarron. When AL.com visited the store on Thursday, the jerseys of Cooper and Yeldon had been swapped out for jerseys of Mark Ingram and Courtney Upshaw. Both Ingram and Upshaw are now in the NFL. McCarron, a senior, played his final game in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
The store's Facebook page has a gallery of photos that include McCarron and other players. One photo shows McCarron signing a cardboard cutout of himself. However, if McCarron was not compensated for the autograph -- and there's no indication that he was -- it is not an NCAA violation.
Before the 2013 season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was suspended a half-game by the NCAA after being investigated for selling his autograph. The NCAA was not able to prove that Manziel had sold his signature.
Players are also not permitted to make trades for signatures. After an NCAA investigation found that Ohio State players had sold signatures and gotten deals on cars, the Buckeyes were banned from postseason play in 2012.
This is not the first time Alabama has responded publicly about Al-Betar's business. In 2011, Alabama sent a letter of dissociation for three years to Al-Betar. That was after Alabama had sent him a cease and desist letter for using the likeness of Alabama players in advertisements and selling current players' autographs.
"Due to the concerns expressed in our letter to Mr. Al-Betar dated March 31, 2011, we disassociated him from our program," Alabama said in a 2011 release. "As we always do in matters of this nature, we discussed this matter with the SEC Office. Because we found no evidence of any NCAA violation, we did not self-report a violation. UA will continue to be proactive in all areas of compliance monitoring."
The university said Al-Betar had been cooperative throughout the 2011 investigation. It also said his "conduct and interaction with student-athletes, as well as that of your employees, has been appropriately reviewed, and appears to be compliant with NCAA regulations."
In the letter of dissociation, which was signed by then-Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, Al-Betar was, among other things, prohibited from contact or attempted contact with current Alabama student-athletes "outside of that of a store owner and customer" and that he "should refrain from obtaining any items of memorabilia from our student-athletes including used equipment and apparel."
When asked about Al-Betar by ESPN Radio 103.3 in Dallas in 2011, Alabama coach Nick Saban said that he wasn't sure if it was fair to his players to ban them from Al-Betar's store.
"Our compliance people have been on top of this for a long time," Saban said at the time. "I think this is an example of somebody...it's not a violation if you sign a shirt for somebody, you just can't receive compensation for it. We've done a cease-and-desist with this establishment a long time ago to make sure everybody understands what players can and can't do. You know, I guess I could ban our players from the place but until somebody can sorta convince me that somebody is doing something wrong, which I haven't been convinced of yet, I don't know if that's fair to our players."
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