Georgia Tech was singled out Friday, and not in an ideal way.
In a potentially landmark antitrust trial between the NCAA and former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, NCAA president Mark Emmert reportedly told the court that he did not think Tech football schedule cards that featured photos of individual Yellow Jackets players next to logos of companies was appropriate. The class-action lawsuit, filed by O’Bannon, essentially seeks compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses on television broadcasts and video games.
At the trial, plaintiff’s lawyers reportedly entered into evidence a Tweet sent Thursday by the Tech marketing department sent out Thursday that included a photo of football schedule cards featuring several Tech players, including quarterback Justin Thomas, wide receiver DeAndre Smelter and nose tackle Adam Gotsis, along with logos for Domino’s, Coke and Barnes & Noble, all sponsors of Tech athletics.
Said Emmert, according to ESPN reporter Mark Schlabach’s Twitter page, “I personally don’t find it appropriate at all.”
Tech is hardly the first school to use athletes’ likenesses in such a way, but had the misfortune of being held up as an example Friday (along with Kentucky, Oregon and Florida State, among others) in a trial closely followed by the college athletics industry. Much of the testimony during the trial in Oakland, Calif., has focused on the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue received by the NCAA and its member conferences and schools and the degree to which college athletes are truly students and amateurs.
Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski stood by the use of the cards.
“These cards aren’t sold, they’re used to generate awareness and hopefully fan interest in and around our programs, period,” he said. “That’s the sole purpose for them.”
Bobinski recalled that when he was athletic director at Xavier, it was “a big deal” to the players to be featured.
“We’re certainly aware that this is a time of high alert and the radar is scanning all places,” he said. “I definitely don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about what we’re doing. I know it’s not.”
Bobinski said he understood Emmert’s comments but suggested that he may not have had a full understanding of the cards and their usage.
“It’s interesting times we live in, to say the least,” he said. “When a schedule card causes a brush fire, we’ve gone over the edge of the cliff.”