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.
“All of these t-shirts represent current student-athletes on the University of Michigan Football team,” Van Horn wrote in her letter. “Neither the University of Michigan nor any of these student-athletes have provided consent to use these names for commercial purposes.”
Van Horn wrote that such sales jeopardize the eligibility of student-athletes.
“Please be aware that NCAA rules do not permit any currently enrolled student-athlete’s name or likeness to be utilized in conjunction with the sale of a commercial product when the student-athlete in question has eligibility remaining,” Van Horn wrote. “Such use is classified by the NCAA as non-permissible promotional activity, and it can jeopardize the eligibility of the involved student-athlete.”
Van Horn continued, “In order to protect the continuing eligibility of these student-athletes, NCAA rules require the University to take appropriate steps to prevent this non-permissible promotional activity. For this reason, the University requests that you immediately cease and desist from selling these items.”
In an interview with the Daily yesterday, Underground Printing co-owner Ryan Gregg said he greatly values his organization’s relationship with the University Athletic Department.
“Whatever they ask us to do, we try to help,” he said.
Asked during the interview why Underground Printing had received a letter from the Athletic Department, Gregg declined to discuss the reasons.
“I really don’t want to get into any of that,” Gregg said. “I’m not trying to be shady or anything…yea or nay on anything I could possibly say, no good could come of it.”
However, Gregg said Underground Printing would continue to abide by the requests of the Athletic Department.
“I would hope that anybody that actually supports the University, so pretty much anyone in Ann Arbor, would do the same,” he said. “Whatever the reason or cause, you know, if you work with the University all you can do is help support them.”