In a statement released on Aug. 8, the NCAA let the world know that it would stop the sale of school merchandise—from NCAA.org:
Moving forward, the NCAA online shop will no longer offer college and university merchandise. In the coming days, the store’s website will be shut down temporarily and reopen in a few weeks as a marketplace for NCAA championship merchandise only. After becoming aware of issues with the site, we determined the core function of the NCAA.com fan shop should not be to offer merchandise licensed by our member schools.
It's a simple statement on the website, but the "issue" that the NCAA became "aware of" in the statement had a lot less to do with just school merchandise and a lot more to do with the hypocrisy the organization has been fighting.
Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, spent Aug. 6 showing search results for player names on the NCAA's ShopNCAAsports.com site. Examples of the exposures can be viewed at the Raleigh News and Observer:
Although the NCAA farms out the management of the site to another company, the organization's name and logo being slapped on a site peddling jerseys and autographs, searchable by the players' names, was not a good situation. Especially, as the NCAA sits in court battling for its amateurism and use-of-player-likenesses life in the O'Bannon lawsuit.
Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, has been taking heat as the college football bubble swells with cash for everyone but the players involved. During media days, commissioners from the Big Five—ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC—all took the president to task on members needing more freedom to provide financially for players.
In a conference call following the stop of memorabilia sales, Emmert said the word that he and his camp have been able to avoid up until now: hypocritical.
As ESPN reported, here's Emmert's full quote:
In the national office, we can certainly recognize why that could be seen as hypocritical, and indeed I think the business of having the NCAA selling those kinds of goods is a mistake, and we're going to exit that business immediately. It's not something that's core to what the NCAA is about, and it probably never should have been in the business.
While the NCAA's decision to disassociate with EA Games was a quiet one, this move forced a response by Emmert. These are two instances where the NCAA has to take a step back, putting the control into the hands of the schools and the licensing agencies schools use.
This is not a win for the players—schools will continue the sale of memorabilia, apparel and the video games without compensating them.
However, it is a blow to the NCAA's credibility in the O'Bannon case, a feather in the cap on the players' side. These "anonymous" players featured on games and on jerseys certainly are not anonymous when searching for them returns specific teams and jersey numbers.
The acknowledging of the hypocrisy, and the disconnect between the message and the action, is not normal NCAA protocol. One can stop short of calling this a watershed moment in collegiate athletics, all the while recognizing that as the heat increases on the legal side, the NCAA is looking at itself and trying to fix issues in order to survive.
Change is coming. Mark Emmert has said as much in recent months. The Big Five commissioners have demanded something be done to aid their members. The stage is set with a January meeting planned, according to NCAA.org, for major changes at the Division I level.
The NCAA admitting some mistakes is the first step, and as January approaches, the coming months will show more opportunities for the massive organization to try to persevere through the coming transition.