Jameis Winston, FSU’s celebrated quarterback, continues to carry the most recent national champions through a spotless season with the playoffs in sight. Not too far North, No. 9 Georgia’s showcase running back, Todd Gurley, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and a part of team headed to win the SEC East. However, the under-the-table autograph allegations that once knocked reputations of previous stars such as Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel have struck both Winston and Gurley within the past three weeks.
University of Georgia’s compliance office received word that the Heisman-hopeful Gurley had been paid $400 dollars to sign 80 items on the school’s campus this past spring. Other sources reported him receiving between $8 and $25 dollars per signature. Meanwhile, James Spence Authentication (JSA) had already authenticated over 500 items signed by the young star.
On October 9th, Georgia announced Gurley’s suspension. Since then, he’s missed the past two victories against No. 23 Missouri and an unranked Arkansas where the Bulldog’s savior replacement, Nick Chubb, had no problem filling the spotlight.
After FSU’s win over Syracuse on October 11th, Winston was faced with similar allegations when JSA’s website eventually revealed over 2,000 signatures by the quarterback. After being questioned by head coach Jimbo Fisher, Winston confirmed that he did not, at any point, accept money in exchange for his signature. Fisher went on to vigorously defend his player in a press conference the upcoming Thursday.
“I think we’ve got to be very careful in today’s society to convict people in the public before they actually do in court or anywhere else,” Fisher said.
“That’s happened in recent history and we saw we made a huge mistake and ruined a lot of lives. We need to be more responsible in our reporting and our opinions.” “The facts are the facts,” he concluded. “There is no victim because there was no crime.”
However, despite the national champion coach’s trusted opinion, James Spence, owner of JSA, stands by his company’s belief that the signatures are real. Though he refuses to publicly release the identity or identities of the person(s) responsible for submitting the signed items, he explains the corporation’s intricate authentication process and reinforced the idea that an alternative to a mass signing by the quarterback is highly unlikely.
Winston, playing the role that he does, naturally signs a fair amount of autographs for fans at both football and baseball games. With the NCAA’s current autograph policy being more and more enforced, even this may be too much.
NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168 states that “after becoming a student-athlete, an individual shall not be eligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if the individual: (a) Accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind; or (b) Receives remuneration for endorsing a commercial product or service through the individual’s use of such product or service.”
Big picture: the NCAA is becoming increasingly strict on their signing policy while the implications for violating it continues to be defined as players and teams push and pull the boundaries.The day after Manziel’s controversy in August 2013, the NCAA shut down their shopping site. For the rest of the 2013 season, Louisville didn’t let players sign at their fan day event and Georgia only allowed signatures on posters supplied by the school. Even earlier this season, Oregon had to tighten up on how often and when they were letting their players sign.
This boundary itself has been a controversial topic among college athletes as a whole over the past few years and gaining more attention as more examples plead their cases. During Manziel’s investigation, ESPN writer Rick Reilly compared the young athlete to Ashley and Mark-Kate Olsen.
“Just like Manziel, they were talented and famous. Just like Manziel, they went to college. Unlike Manziel, they were allowed to participate in the free-market system,” he explains. “The pursuit of wealth is available to every person enrolled at Texas A&M except student-athletes. The whiz pianist, the science prodigy, even the hopeful sportswriter.” Even Reilly himself worked 40 hours a week at a local paper but in his own words, “nobody threatened to throw me out of school.”
This past Saturday, FSU secured its 23rd straight against the previously No. 5 ranked Irish and Winston remains an undefeated quarterback throughout his college career. His 20 straight wins top the list of FBS quarterback’s longest win streaks to begin their career as starters.
According to Forbes.com, FSU’s athletic department generated $11 million in profit during the 2012 season and the average BCS champion experienced an 11% revenue increase during their championship winning years. Additionally, these same programs typically receive an 18% surge in football revenue from the year before through the year after winning the title.
This of course begs the question: even if these stars were receiving money, is it really all that big of a deal? In fact, are they possibly the most deserving of their age to be doing so? Though these are questions that cannot be answered overnight, much less by the results of a single case, their legitimacy is becoming progressively more important as novel challenges to the rule demand novel answers.
As of now, Winston appears to be much better off than Gurley. FSU still has no evidence that he’s accepted money for his signature, his head coach has his back, and the defending champions are still defending. Gurley’s stellar season and his Heisman hopes, however, are still hanging in the balance.
by RYAN ALEY / contributing writer