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Athletic Dept. to apparel stores: T-shirts about Denard Robinson break NCAA rules

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published September 20, 2010

Local apparel vendors looking to make some big money off Denard Robinson's meteoric rise this season got some bad news in the mail last week. To address NCAA compliance issues brought to the attention of the University’s Athletic Department, letters were sent to a handful of vendors selling Michigan apparel.

The letters, sent last Thursday by the Athletic Department’s Director of Compliance Judy Van Horn, called on vendors to discontinue production and sales of apparel that featured references to current Michigan student-athletes. Producing and selling goods that feature the names, pictures or likenesses of student-athletes is a violation of NCAA regulations.

Specifically, NCAA regulations stipulate that “items that include an individual student-athlete’s name, picture or likeness, other than information items, may not be sold.”

The regulation calls out jerseys and bobblehead dolls as examples of items that are banned from being sold in the likeness of a student-athlete. However, the NCAA regulations also specifically call out media guides, schedule cards and institutional publications as examples of items that may contain student-athlete names, pictures and likenesses.

In an interview yesterday, Athletic Department spokesman David Ablauf outlined the circumstances surrounding the recent batch of letters sent to athletic apparel vendors.

“You’re not allowed to produce apparel with a student-athlete’s name or any of his likenesses,” Ablauf explained. “A written notice (was sent) to all licensees who were producing apparel of any student-athlete.”

And while vendors were using the likeness of several student-athletes on apparel, Ablauf said the violations largely focused on apparel that featured the likeness of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

“That’s a big piece of it,” Ablauf said when asked whether the likeness of Robinson's was the reason for sending the letters. “This isn’t like the professional ranks where they can produce jerseys of student-athletes with their names on the back and stuff like that…it’s against NCAA rules.”

Though this specific incident might generate more attention than most, Ablauf said taking such action is routine.

“Anytime we see apparel out in the market that involves a student-athlete…we would send a cease and desist letter to them,” he said.

Ablauf added that he couldn’t definitively answer how frequently the Athletic Department sends out letters of this nature, since every year is different and varies with regard to what licensed apparel producers choose to do.

And though it’s not classified as a cease-and-desist order, Ablauf said failure to comply with the University’s request to stop producing and selling apparel with the likeness of student-athletes could lead to further consequences.

“You could go as far as taking someone’s license away from them,” Ablauf said, referencing that the University licenses which commercial ventures may print its logo. “If it was something where they didn’t abide by that regulation, then you could just take away their license.”

Among the more than half dozen businesses to receive notices was Underground Printing, a local prominent Michigan apparel retailer.

In the letter from the Athletic Department to Underground Printing, released to The Michigan Daily last night by the Athletic Department, Van Horn wrote that 11 t-shirts sold at Underground Printing did not comply with the NCAA regulation.

Among the shirts, were four that focused on the likeness of Robinson — one named “Nard Dog,” one named “Shoelace,” one named “The Five Hundred Yard Man” and one named “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shoelaces.”

Additionally, shirts with the likenesses of Michigan Football players Will Campbell, Tate Forcier, Mike Martin, Martavious Odoms, Craig Roh and Renaldo Sagesse were also listed as violating NCAA regulations.