We still don't have a definitive answer on when or if Todd Gurley will suit up again for the Georgia Bullodgs. In case you missed it because you've been living under a rock, Gurley is alleged to have signed at least 80 items of sports memorabilia in exchange for money.
Now, he's not alone. As we indicated on Friday night, Florida State QB Jameis Winston also has a lot of stuff authenticated by James Spence Authentication. 340 items to be specific, for which sources tell ESPN he is now being investigated by FSU. I assume that FSU will put the same amount of gusto into this investigation that they have Winston's other various alleged escapades. Frankly, this is the only thing that Jameis has been accused of that I actually hope he did. I join most of the college football world in believing that the rule which prevents athletes from profiting off their own likenesses to be beyond stupid. It's exploitive and contrary to my personal notion of human decency, but that's a rant for another day. Oh wait. I couldn't wait.
It bears noting that Winston's situation and Gurley's aren't exactly the same. No one has (publicly, to my knowledge) accused Winston of taking money to sign 340 separate pieces of memorabilia for the same individual. But let's be honest, if he didn't get paid then he is accommodating to a fault because I wouldn't sign 340 separate items for my own grandmother without some remuneration. There's no evidence of it, but common sense dictates that Jameis got paid for those autographs.
It's also worth noting that Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston aren't the first high profile college football players investigated for signing for dollars. Tajh Boyd, Jadeveon Clowney, Braxton Miller, Marcus Lattimore, Sammie Watkins and others have all curiously had large blocks of autographs show up on the internet.
The broader issue here is (and stop here if you have any notion that college football is an amateur sport) this: I believe Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston probably have signed autographs for compensation, and they're not alone. Because college football players have been signing stuff for money or services for as long as anyone has cared who college football players were. College football players have been getting cheeseburgers and movie admission and better grades in public speaking class and plain old cash in college towns forever in exchange for autographs. No one really cared.
And then college football became big business and the Internet happened and somebody realized that the money he'd made selling Joe Football's autograph at baseball card shows was peanuts compared to what he could reap on this eBay thing. In some ways, it's the perfect "crime." Of course it's not really a crime. Signing your name for money is not illegal unless you're doing it on a stolen prescription pad. But in the sense that it is proscribed activity according to the NCAA, this is one caper that's hard to prove. Because college athletes sign autographs all the time. In class. On the shuttle bus. When they go back to their high schools for a Friday night game. When they eat lunch at Burger King.
Heck, most universities set up events where people run like morons to be first in line to get one of thousands of signatures a given college athlete will give out at team Picture Days. How can you tell the difference between the stack of pictures a college football signed at Fan Day for free at the urging of the university and the ones he signed in a hotel room by the airport for $10.00 a pop? Unless the guy is dumb or brazen enough to be photographed signing a stack of stuff in the wrong place, you can't. Even then if no money changes hands on camera and everyone keeps his mouth shut, it's still impossible to really nail a player if you're the NCAA.
But things do get complicated in today's marketplace. We're not the trusting nation we were when Mickey Mantle was signing cocktail napkins in exchange for beer. The modern sports memorabilia marketplace floats on a sea of verification, services which will authenticate the signature on your Jameis Winston mini-helment. Services like James Spence Authentication, which vouched for that long string of sequentially-verified Winston merch. If you want to play amateur detective, go to eBay and search for your favorite (or least favorite) college football player. Find the items for sale with verification numbers visible. Then go plug them into the handy-dandy website. Here's one besides the well known JSA site. See how many photographs Nick Marshall or Hutson Mason or Marcus Mariota signed which were all authenticated one right after the other.
It's all great fun. And it's all evidence of what is going on and of the fact that the NCAA can't do much about it. College athletes are signing tons and tons of sports memorabilia every year, and while some of them may be young and even dumb, I guarantee that most have figured out that it takes 10 minutes to sign 100 items and make $500. That's $3000 an hour. Show of hands, anybody here who would have turned down $3000 an hour in college? Me neither. This is an issue upon which the emperor never had any clothes. It's the perfect crime, in part because it is 100% victimless. Even noble. Pardon me if I can't get too upset about a college superstar making some money to sign glossy 8x10's which can go in some kid's bedroom or on grandpa's desk.
I just can't muster the indignation. At least at anyone except Mark Emmert and the NCAA.