eBay Autograph Sales Draw Fire From Large NCAA Football Programs
Major NCAA football powers know that their legions of fans want to get up close and football with the players they watch every Saturday - and that includes getting autographs. They just aren't too crazy about seeing those same signed items auctioned off right away online, so they're starting to do something about it.
Schools from the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten have all taken steps to avoid the immediate resale of autographs on eBay and other sites, attempting to ensure that supporters still receive the contact they crave while cracking down on those who are only out to make a quick buck. The colleges consider their actions to be unfortunate but necessary given the realities of today's memorabilia scene.
The most common deterrent is to simply limit the number or type of items that can be signed at meet-and-greets and fan appreciation days. Oklahoma now allows each fan to bring just one piece to be autographed at its fan day, while Georgia permits two items per person.
The Bulldogs also encourage players to personalize every signature. As longtime collectors know, that practice can make it difficult to turn around and flip the autograph for a profit.
Other colleges have had to come up with even more restrictive policies. After a deluge of memorabilia signed by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow ended up online, Florida decided to provide a team poster for its event this year and put a moratorium on all outside items.
"Fans used to bring in all sorts of stuff to be signed, from balls to helmets and jerseys. The next day it would appear for sale on eBay," said Jamie McCloskey, Florida's senior associate athletics director for compliance, to USA Today. "We've had fans complain, and for good reasons, but entrepreneurs were abusing the opportunity."
Pro athletes from all sports have been aware of the practice and reselling autographs for years, and many have been combating it on their own. It's become increasingly common for players to refuse to sign certain things or simply to charge fees that make it cost prohibitive for profiteers to make any money.
At the college level, it's still a relatively young phenomenon and awareness of it is growing over time. On top of trying to keep things fair for the football players, the schools also want to avoid any appearance that NCAA regulations are not being followed.
Autograph sessions are permitted by current NCAA rules, but the question of who gets the proceeds from sale of the signed items is a potentially thorny one that schools would just as well avoid.