Thursday, February 5, 2009

Walking a thin line

JSU athletic department officials don’t believe they have committed any NCAA violations, but, boy, it sure looks close.

In early January, junior quarterback Ryan Perrilloux appeared at an official team press conference to discuss spring practice and his decision to forgo the NFL draft with a soft-drink company logo displayed prominently on his JSU polo shirt. Then, last week, comments from student assistant Tommy Joe Whiddon appeared in a Florida newspaper relative to his brother Rayce’s verbal commitment to the Gamecocks.

While JSU officials claim no violations in these cases, both situations seem to walk a thin line.

NCAA bylaw 12.5.4 stipulates an institution’s official uniform and all other items of apparel shall bear only a single manufacturer’s or distributor’s normal label or trademark, and applies to just “competition” as well as pre- and post-game activities. It’s one thing for a coach to be linked to a popular product, and JSU strategically places a soft drink in front Crowe during his weekly in-season press conferences NASCAR-esque, but the rules are there to prevent the commercial exploitation of a student-athlete.

Bylaw 13.10.2 prohibits an institution from commenting about a prospect’s ability, potential contribution to the college team or the likelihood of his signing with the school, a violation JSU athletic department officials have accused The Star on several occasions of promoting in conversations with their coaches.

After it was noted in the Walton (Fla.) Sun that Tommy Joe Whiddon and John Houston Whiddon, a senior receiver on the team, both said they hoped to see their brother join them at JSU, Tommy Joe was quoted saying, “I just told him I wanted him to keep all of his options open. He had had a good season and had earned the right to be recruited. I didn't want him to base his decision just on me and John Houston being up here because he had to do what was right for him. It's his life. You only get this decision to make one time."

Sounds like a comment about a recruit.

Rayce officially joined his brothers Wednesday, signing with the Gamecocks on national signing day.

The NCAA, in an e-mail response to The Star, said it couldn’t state whether there was a violation in the apparel case unless it had more information. As to the recruiting comment question, it directed any questions to JSU.

JSU sports information director Greg Seitz explained away the shirt Perrilloux wore as “it’s our team shirt.” He said earlier this week when the question was revisited, “it’d be like him wearing a FUBU shirt. He could wear a Coca-Cola shirt. It’d be no different than wearing an OVC shirt.”

Of course, the Ohio Valley Conference doesn’t stand to make a buck by having one of its teams’ star players appear with its logo on his shirt or throw support toward the program to have the logo displayed on team wear whether the player is (improperly) compensated or not.

Seitz explained Whiddon’s public comments about a recruit as “He’s (Tommy Joe) a student. We don’t have graduate assistant coaches.” Still, he works in/for the football program, and you’d figured the rule would apply to everyone in a program’s staff regardless of their status.

Since the school claims no violations, these two circumstances become nothing more than a thing to make you go hmmmm.

To the Gamecocks’ credit, it has been said they have had fewer than a dozen secondary violations since moving to Division I. But these two instances should sound an alarm.

The solution? The NCAA should tighten some potential loopholes in its rules or JSU, especially now that university president Bill Meehan is on the NCAA Board of Directors, needs to steer clear of even the slightest appearance of impropriety.

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