Mississippi State star Dak Prescott says he is taking steps to avoid being the next college football star to be accused of exchanging autographs for cash.
“I’ve started just personalizing things — making sure I write to the person that they’re asking for. And I don’t sign things in bundles — just being a lot more aware of what I’m signing,” the Heisman Trophy contender said.
Personalizing an autographed item lowers its value.
Good idea, but still a simple Google search of ‘Dak Prescott autograph’ generates about a dozen images of photographs, mini-helmets and footballs for sale with Prescott’s signature on them. Or at least a signature the seller claims to be Prescott’s. Prices range for $20 for an 8×10 print to $200 for that mini-helmet, which would otherwise go for about $30.
Somebody is making a nice profit off this stuff.
A year after Johnny Manziel was suspended for a half after an investigation by Texas A&M and the NCAA into whether he was paid to sign memorabilia, Georgia’s Todd Gurley is being investigated for the same thing. The star running back has already missed one game, and it’s unclear if he’ll return.
The quantity of signatures from Heisman winner Jameis Winston — many authenticated by the same company linked to Gurley — has forced Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher to field questions about whether his two-sport star has done anything wrong.
“He’s never taken a dime for anything,” Fisher said earlier this week. “He’s signed thousands of things. I mean, the guy sits for an hour and a half before a baseball game and signed and an hour and a half after a baseball game. … He is very accommodating to people.”
In some cases, schools have encouraged their players to be less accommodating.
Arizona wide receiver Austin Hill said coach Rich Rodriguez has made the team cut back on the impromptu autograph sessions after games.
“I think our media staff and everyone we have now controls it a little better than what we had in the past, because in the past there used to be people around McKale (Center) just with pieces of paper, with footballs, with random things, trying to get us to sign,” he said. “To be nice, we used to sign them. But since Coach Rod got here, it hasn’t been too much of a problem.”
Of course, sometimes the school asks him to sign material.
“I had to sign a couple of footballs for some big donors, things like that,” Hill said.
Former Louisville player Calvin Pryor, now with the New York Jets, said he didn’t get asked to do much signing in college but saw plenty of demand for teammate Teddy Bridgewater, the record-breaking quarterback who is now with the Minnesota Vikings.
Pryor, who played under coach Charlie Strong, now with Texas, said Louisville coaches had a very clear policy: Do not give any autographs, and that the staff monitored it closely.
He said the message was: “Better be safe than sorry, because we don’t want you to get suspended or having to go through the NCAA. They just kept us away from it.”
That meant occasionally disappointing fans, though Louisville would hold formal sessions that gave fans access to players. Pryor said those took the pressure off the biggest stars.
“I think that’s a smarter way to do it,” he said.
South Carolina receiver Pharoh Cooper said there are no rules against signing away from school-sponsored events, but the Gamecocks are drilled on the rules by compliance staff and coaches and told to be wary.
“They just ask us to be careful about it, about what we sign and how many items,” he said. “But sometimes, they’ll tell you to personalize it. People are going to try and get money off your name and sell it, so you’ve just really got to be smart about what you do.”
Those school sponsored autograph sessions can be part of the problem, though. They produce hundreds of signed items that nobody is tracking.
“It’s always a concern of ours any time that there’s an issue in college football that’s very, very difficult to control externally,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We are very vigilant with our process of how we counsel players, teach players. Our compliance people try to do the best possible job that we can so that we don’t have those issues. There’s a lot of folks out there that are trying to do these types of things for their own personal benefit, and the player is the one that’s going to suffer the consequences if he doesn’t make a good choice and decision.”
AP sports writers Rachel Cohen in Florham Park, New Jersey, Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina, David Brandt in Starkville, Mississippi, and John Zenor in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP