Just when you thought state legislatures had plenty on their plates now comes a bill in the Georgia Senate that would make it a crime for sports memorabilia dealers to pay college athletes signing stuff. The Todd Gurley bill named for the Georgia running back passed the Georgia Senate, 48-4, and awaits Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature to become law.
Gurley got paid to sign autographs and, as a result, was suspended for four games. Well, the suspension really didn’t matter. Gurley was sidelined with an injury. And now he’s ready for the NFL draft. Gurley can now legally sign autographs even before he signs a big NFL deal.
The autograph issue reared its head a couple of years ago with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. But he danced around the issue the way he eluded defenders in the college game.
Back to the Georgia legislation. The penalty for dealers enticing and soliciting star college footballers would be a $5,000 fine and/or up to one year in the slammer. Really? Aren’t there more pressing matters in the Peach State? Will this clean up recruiting at big-time programs? What about college football players who sign for boosters? Or team fanfests? What if some Greek organization were to ask the next Todd Gurley to sign autographs to benefit some charity like Make a Wish or the Ronald McDonald House?
Granted, student-athletes don’t need dealers preying on students, taking them away from their studies — physics, accounting or, uh, “Dinosaurs and Man.” But honestly, if student-athletes can work to pick up pizza money as an Uber driver, they ought to be able to sign autographs for something. If universities or legislatures don’t want dealers involved, then run the operation to the benefit of a library fund or a nonathletic scholarship fund. Send the dealers to the secondary market with everyone else.
This measure is simply a matter of lawmakers sticking their noses in something that’s unworthy of the people’s business. Can’t athletic departments or the NCAA make these issues part of compliance. Just tell players, “Don’t do drugs. Don’t take free stuff. Don’t engage in dating violence. And you can only sign autographs through the athletic department, which in turn will dispense the items to an acceptable fund or charity?”