On the surface, many of the nation’s biggest sports business stories don’t appear to affect Arkansas. Looking deeper, though, it becomes apparent every story has potential consequences for our state, its residents and natives.
To understand how these issues can impact Arkansas, it’s important to seek out some of the state’s most knowledgeable authorities to weigh in with an informed opinion on the most important sports business issues of the day.
One issue in the news recently involves a Heisman Trophy favorite who is leveraging his celebrity in an unprecedented way. To get a local perspective, I spoke with Arkansas State University Athletic Director Terry Mohajir.
Devastating floods in South Carolina forced Louisiana State University and South Carolina’s football programs to move an Oct. 10 game scheduled to take place in South Carolina to Louisiana. After that game, LSU superstar running back Leonard Fournette — a survivor of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — announced on national TV he wanted to auction off his game-worn jersey and use the proceeds to help South Carolinian flood victims.
“I would like to auction off my game jersey as is to the highest bidder to help out the relief efforts,” he said. “People of Louisiana not only care, but know firsthand what you in South Carolina are going through.”
It initially appeared NCAA bylaws would cause Fournette to lose his eligibility if he and LSU went through with this plan, which Fournette hadn’t beforehand taken up the chain of command. But after a few hours, the NCAA tweeted a message saying it would allow it.
The NCAA hasn’t commented on the situation since that sole tweet.
Why It Matters
Fournette’s offer breaks previously forbidden ground.
NCAA bylaws state student-athletes whose name is to be used in charitable or nonprofit fundraisers must first get written approval from a higher-up. Fournette did not. He apparently initiated this on his own.
Furthermore, the rules state “items that include an individual student-athlete’s name, picture or likeness (e.g., name on jersey, name or likeness on a bobblehead doll), other than on informational items (e.g., media guide, schedule cards, institutional publications), may not be sold.” Fournette wants his jersey to be sold as is, meaning it will retain his name and number on the back and almost certainly fetch a higher auction sum because of that.
The NCAA is making an exception to its own rules by allowing this auction. Fournette’s precedent could herald a future in which more NCAA student-athletes, including Arkansans, take similar stances. Other college athletes have worthy causes, too.
Mohajir Weighs In
Before taking the helm at ASU in 2012, Mohajir worked at the University of Missouri — Kansas City, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Kansas, where he served as associate director of athletics and chief marketing officer. Mohajir is a 1993 ASU graduate and played safety on its football team.
The following interview excerpts are lighted edited and condensed for clarity:
AMP: A lot of schools auction off merchandise and apparel for charity or booster clubs. Can you give me an idea of what Arkansas State has done along these lines?
Mohajir: We’ve done autographed balls of the team and jerseys and all kinds of stuff. It’s to put money into our scholarship fund. It’s a very common thing across the country. You also donate stuff to charities — jerseys and balls — and all that kind of stuff to raise money for the not-for-profits.
AMP: In these kinds of fundraisers, when A-State does them, do you always have autographs of the entire team or ever just have one specific player?
Mohajir: It depends. It might be the entire team, sometimes it might be a few players, sometimes it might be just some top players. It all depends on who the marquee players are. We had a quarterback here a few years ago… [Ryan Aplin] was a highly productive quarterback. Sometimes it might be an entire offense or something else. It all depends… I’ve been at schools where we’ve had [NBA] lottery picks so they just sign it themselves.
AMP: As far as Fournette’s offer of an auction goes, what did you think when you first heard about it?
Mohajir: I thought that was a very admirable thing. I think that he was taking the opportunity to use his exposure to do something good for people who had been put in a challenging situation they have no control over.
AMP: LSU is still completing the paperwork to ensure Fournette’s eligibility is preserved with this. I know you’re not a compliance officer, but can you shed light on why it’s taking LSU this long to complete paperwork?
Mohajir: I think they’re doing the right thing. I think LSU’s just making sure they’re not overstepping their boundary. They’re going through the proper paperwork, just like we would. Because his name was on the back of it, making sure it was OK.
AMP: Fournette, of course, isn’t the only student-athlete with a cause out there. If another student-athlete wants to raise money for it, do you think he or she should be allowed to announce publicly an intention to auction off that jersey or signature for that cause?
Mohajir: It all depends. In theory, yes, but remember a lot of times these jerseys and stuff like that, is also paid for by the university. They’re state property. There’s state laws. For someone just to give away state property or university property, or athletic department property, no… What happens if every game players say, ‘I’m going to give my jersey to this charity, and this charity, and this charity.’ You can’t just go and buy jerseys all the time. They just don’t make them like that…
There needs to be a protocol on that. It can’t be just carte blanche… This is my opinion, but if a player wanted to give a jersey for a charity, assuming the university was OK with it, or the athletic department was OK, and they can replace those jerseys — in theory, I think it could be very commendable.
AMP: Let’s take it down from theory and talk about a specific player. Former A-State wide receiver Allen Muse (hero of the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) overcame so much. Katrina. Heart problem. Suicide of his father. If he and some other players had stepped forward during the GoDaddy Bowl to announce they want to initiate a fundraiser for one of those causes, how would you have reacted to something like that?
Mohajir: It all depends on what it is. If he got a GoDaddy Bowl jersey that we were giving out to all the players and he was getting to keep it, and he decided to give his jersey to a charity to make money to help people in need, I would make sure from an NCAA standpoint we could do that. I would be supportive of it. You know what? I’d be very supportive.
End of the Story
After Fournette’s proposal, but before the NCAA’s approval, LSU senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar told ESPN: “A student-athlete can’t auction, sell anything related to their name, image and likeness and make money on it. That’s the principle of amateurism, basically.”
In this case, Fournette will be allowed to generate a profit off his own name and LSU’s brand. He just won’t keep the money. Auction details haven’t yet been announced, but insiders believe it will take place in late November or early December before the Dec. 12 announcement of the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner.
Main Photo: Arkansas State University’s Centennial Bank Stadium. Photo courtesy of the university.