Commentary: It’s time to stop the generic jersey madness

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At DePaul’s bookstore at the Lincoln Park campus, in the clearance section, is a small selection of generic Blue Demons basketball jerseys with the number 12 on them.

It’s not hard to figure out that the number 12 on those jerseys belongs to Cleveland Melvin. Anyone who is buying is purchasing a Melvin jersey.

Except there’s something wrong with that scenario – Melvin can’t profit off people buying his jersey. Student athletes all across the country can’t profit from the NCAA and universities using their name.

It’s time to stop the generic jersey madness.

This isn’t just DePaul taking advantage of studentathletes. College merchandisers all across the nation sell generic jerseys. Want to buy a brand new Andrew Wiggins jersey? Kansas sells a No. 22 in its campus bookstore.

Universities are allowed to do this because of a waiver that student-athletes sign when they get their scholarships, according to DePaul professor Phil Meyers. Meyers, who teaches a class on law in sports, said that the current model is an exchange between athletes and the universities.

“As an academic and a teacher, these kids are getting an education,” Meyers said. “These kids are getting benefits if they’re good enough to have a free minor league development. They can hone their skills and be a more polished player, getting to the NBA or the NFL, getting the exposure they might not have otherwise.”

So if there’s an agreement in place, why can’t the universities sell the jersey with the actual name on them?

“The NCAA’s goal is to promote the product and the sport, so it’s almost a wink-wink scenario where they aren’t going to use the name (of an athlete) on the uniform because they are promoting the college experience of the college product,” Meyers said.

This seems strange – the NCAA preaches a sense of togetherness and team-orientated culture, but allows the universities to reap the benefits of individual performance. If it were really about selling the concept of a team, wouldn’t there be more jersey options than just the best players?

Up until August, people could search on the NCAA’s apparel website to find a player’s jersey by that player’s name. Someone could search “Johnny Manziel” on the website and a generic No. 2 Texas A&M football jersey would appear.

This practice was disabled after ESPN’s Jay Bilas pointed out the hypocrisy in it. The NCAA goes to the extreme to say that it’s not taking advantage of its athletes, but soak in the millions of dollars the business generates.

Of course, people have challenged the NCAA. Ed O’Bannon, a member of the 1995 UCLA men’s basketball championship team, filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and EA Sports for using the likeness of former players in its NCAA College Football series.

The lawsuit, which is still ongoing against the NCAA, settled with EA Sports and as a result, the company has halted production of its college football game going forward. O’Bannon stood up for former players and now more than 100,000 former athletes can claim compensation that still needs to be sorted out.

However, O’Bannon’s case only applies to former athletes. Student-athletes whose likeness was used while in college won’t receive compensation because of the waiver they signed to get their scholarships.

Ultimately, universities and the NCAA get to benefit from the productivity of its star athletes without the players seeing a dime.

When will someone stand up for the athletes in school?