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Hobbs Column: One more headache for the NCAA

Last Modified: Thursday, August 08, 2013 8:21 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Come to think of it, it had been way too quiet on the rogue-sports agent front.

What was it, just a couple or three years ago that Urban Meyer, still at Florida, and Nick Saban were vowing to rid the world of those dastardly sports agents preying on our youth, evicting them from the college scene before they wined and dined and bottle-serviced the young lads to death?

We’ve heard hardly a peep from them since, least ways that anybody can prove.

But you can never let your guard down.

So now, it’s “autograph brokers” as the new scoundrel of the month corrupting our innocent football youth.

Honestly, I didn’t know that was an actual profession. Autograph broker, that is.

But leave it to your old friend Johnny Manziel to break new ground.

Texas A&M seemingly had gone to great, if subtle, lengths to get the word out that all of Johnny Football’s offseason jet-setting — the Pebble Beach golf and tripping over super models from courtside seat to Cabo San Lucas — was easily explained by the fact that he did, in reality, come from a couple of generations of some serious Texas oil money.

No law saying poor little rich kids can’t play college football and still act like trust-fund babies.

No questioning where that BMW came from.

Don’t hate him because he’s rich.

But this kid, who doesn’t need any spending money, it turns out, may have been signing his eligibility away — one autograph at a time, for cash money in obvious violation of NCAA rules.

There’s nothing wrong with signing an autograph, of course, but the allegations are that Manziel was paid by one of these autograph brokers for his Johnny Hancock.

It will be tough to prove, and the NCAA probably isn’t overly anxious to suspend its reigning Heisman winner for more than two games (before the Aggies play Alabama in Week 3).

But now there’s the fear that Johnny Autograph may be just the Sharpie tip of the iceberg, that this silent menace will bring down a lot more of the high-profile stars whose signatures are worth a lot more than their word.

So far, Ohio State (Braxton Miller), South Carolina (Jadeveon Clowney) and Louisville (Teddy Bridgewater) have all checked into the inordinate number of those signatures for sale on the Internet, and determined none of the players got any money for them.

One of the advantages of replacing all those early departed NFL draft picks for LSU, is that it left hardly anyone behind famous enough to attract much interest from this high-end level of the autograph marketplace.

But you can’t be too careful.

Will overreacting (grandstanding) state legislatures now move to outlaw autograph requests to players with college eligibility left?

This one, I guess I’ll just never understand where the market is.

In the sense that it could matter at all, it would seem like all an autograph should be valuable only if it’s personal, if it’s a memento of an actual face-to-face meeting, however, brief, with a celebrity.

Or maybe if the signature is attached to something — a helmet a player actually wore, for instance — that would have real value even without the signature.

Buying an autographed generic helmet on eBay just doesn’t seem to have much sentimental value, unless it’s maybe a genuine Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln.

But it surely happens.

One of the sideshows in the week leading up to last February’s Super Bowl in New Orleans was the platoon of autograph harvesters stationed outside the media headquarters.

These weren’t wide-eyed little tykes, gazing up at their heroes. These were seasoned veterans, full-grown adults, mostly with hard Brooklyn accents, not impressed by much.

All day long the limos would pull up outside the arena, depositing current or future Hall of Famers at the curb — a Mike Ditka, a Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith or Steve Young — as they headed in to do interviews for one network or another.

Some players would sign, some wouldn’t, but every new limo stirred the army to action to see who was behind the tinted windows.

In retrospect, I gather these were the foot soldiers in the autograph industry. The little kids didn’t have a chance.

As much as they looked like leaches, when I ventured over to talk with a few of them about their chores, it turned out they weren’t really such bad sorts.

Just a bunch of guys trying to make a living. They’d get pretty aggressive when a limo door opened, but for the most part they kept their distance without much complaint if players indicated they weren’t going to be signing anything.

At any rate, no money was changing hands.

For that matter, in the buildup for the 2012 BCS National Championship in New Orleans, LSU and Alabama seemed to be spending so much time keeping potential agents away from their hotels, that the autograph hawks slipped around, seemingly no more of a nuisance than gnats.

But they were there, everywhere it seemed, and players quickly learned to separate the pros from the fans — the profiteers were the ones snapping photos of the signing with their cellphones to document it.

Now it’s just one more headache for the NCAA.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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