Putting a price on their backs

While schools capitalize on popular players, selling jerseys with their numbers, debate about pay continues

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comSeptember 27, 2013 

SEATTLE — Former University of Washington running back Chris Polk was on the home sideline for the Huskies’ home thrashing of Idaho State last week.

Afterward, Keith Price said he planned to go out to dinner with Polk, his former teammate.

When asked if Polk – who signed a three-year contract for $1.45 million with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent – would be paying, Price laughed.

“I hope so, I’m pretty broke,” Price said.

Another week of college football has brought more discussion about whether college athletes, primarily football and men’s basketball players, should be paid.

A handful of players wrote “APU” for All Players United, on their wrist tape last Saturday. The “All Players United” message was a first, tiny step for the National College Players Association, which is trying to organize players in protest of the NCAA’s treatment of student-athletes. A few players from Georgia, Georgia Tech and Northwestern participated.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said he doesn’t think players have the ability to unify and force change.

“No, these guys don’t know what they’re doing,” Sarkisian said. “When I was 18, 19, I didn’t have a clue how the world worked. I was just trying to get to

class and meetings on time.”

Former Tennessee running back Arian Foster, now a star with the Houston Texans, said last week he was paid while at college.

CBS Sports reported Thursday that Electronic Arts Inc., maker of an immensely popular college football video game, had reached a settlement in a series of wide-ranging class-action lawsuits regarding college players’ likenesses.

The amount of the settlement is not known. What’s clear is that the settlement affects the 100,000-plus players simulated in the company’s basketball and football games since 2003. That includes former and current players.

The next step is up to the NCAA. It has to decide if current players will be allowed to receive a settlement payment from EA and Collegiate Licensing Co.

The amount is moot. If Price receives one penny from the suit, it could kick open a Pandora’s box with players being openly paid for the first time.

In its team store, Washington prominently sells jerseys with Nos. 17, 7 and 88. Because players are supposed to be amateurs, no names are on the back.

Price (17), linebacker Shaq Thompson (7) and All-America tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (88) happen to wear those numbers this year.

The jerseys sell online for $59.95 to $119.95. Information on how many the school sells was not immediately available.

NCAA.com recently stopped selling players’ jerseys because, according to NCAA president Mark Emmert, it could be seen as “hypocritical.”

A University of Washington spokesman said the school never considered stopping jersey sales. He also said the university’s intercollegiate athletic department works with vendors to determine which jerseys are sold.

Mood, at least publicly, varies among some of Washington’s marquee players about jersey sales and players being paid.

A mannequin in the front window of the store displays No. 88. Seferian-Jenkins said seeing a little bit more money than the current per diem – $25 during preseason before school starts and $35 for away games after school starts when games are not catered, which they often are – would be nice.

But, he’s also thankful not to have student loans.

“If people are going to sell jerseys, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a rich man if I was to collect, so I wouldn’t be basking in a lot of money,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “It’s a university deal. They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do. They’ve got to make their money. We’re just out here working, and hopefully (we) get to the next step where you can be compensated.”

Thompson said he thought it was an honor people sold and bought his jersey. He also received a $45,000 signing bonus from the Boston Red Sox on a four-year, $100,000 contract in June 2012.

“I don’t worry about it. I’m just focused on getting my education, playing football and trying to move on to the next level,” Thompson said. “Money’s not an issue. I don’t trip on money. I got paid, but I gave all of it to my mom. I’m just a regular college student.”

Price is on the other side. The fifth-year senior quarterback said he thinks players should be paid.

“It’s a tough thing,” Price said. “I’m not in control of it. Of course we would like to see something. That’s not the case yet. Hopefully, they’ll change it when I’m gone. That’s just out of my control.”

Price said he has followed news of the changes the NCAA made.

“I am sure there are a lot of guys that think the same way as me,” Price said.

One of the most interesting cases is Kasen Williams.

The likeness of the junior wide receiver can be seen rolling around downtown Seattle on the side of Metro buses or in multiple parts of Washington’s “committed” marketing campaign.

Williams wears white protective sleeves up to his elbows, receiver gloves, and shows just the edges of T-shirt sleeves just like the silhouetted figure in the school’s marketing material. The frame and body language are the same.

The only difference? The number on the jersey is a 0 instead of a 2.

“I was kind of upset that they didn’t put the 2 on there,” Williams said. “If the 2 is on there, I guess it’s an NCAA violation. I just like being different. I’m not complaining about myself being on a poster.”

Yet, he’s in the same camp as Price.

“That’s a topic that I’ve kind of gone back and forth with in my head,” Williams said. “I think so. Because, you know, they’re making money off the jersey being sold and things like that. That’s just my opinion, but I’m not the one to go out and take a stand and be like, ‘We should get paid.’ But, I believe we should.”

When asked why he doesn’t think he should stand up for the topic, Williams explained what many college players seem to think.

“I can say for me, I’ve been playing football for 10 years now and I haven’t received a check or anything like that yet,” Williams said. “It’s just a goal I am working toward. To come out and say we should be getting paid in college, it’s something I have a lot of strong opinions on but I don’t feel like expressing them because I don’t know if it will get me in trouble, to be honest.”

He may not have to concerned about that much longer.

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas

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