College QB Forced to Sue T-shirt Company to Avoid Eligibility Issue
Mississippi State University (MSU) quarterback Dakota "Dak" Prescott is suing a small T-shirt company for printing shirts featuring his name and jersey number. This, in itself, is hardly newsworthy—NCAA licensing policies prohibit vendors from selling or distributing merchandise featuring the likeness of a student athlete without the athlete's consent. According to The Dispatch, the shirt maker, Matthew Print Company, ignored two cease and desist orders issued by Prescott's legal team, leading the quarterback to seek an injunction and damages. Standard legal stuff.
The problem? Prescott doesn't really have a choice. See NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168, via the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:
If a student-athlete's name or picture appears on commercial items (e.g., T-shirts, sweatshirts, serving trays, playing cards, posters) or is used to promote a commercial product sold by an individual or agency without the student-athlete's knowledge or permission, the student-athlete (or the institution acting on behalf of the student-athlete) is required to take steps to stop such an activity in order to retain his or her eligibility for intercollegiate athletics. Such steps are not required in cases in which a student-athlete's photograph is sold by an individual or agency (e.g., private photographer, news agency) for private use.
In other words, once Prescott became aware of the T-shirts, he was obligated under NCAA rules to take legal action or risk losing his athletics eligibility. Mississippi State, meanwhile, is not involved the lawsuit. "The university believes it's appropriate for Dak to defend himself and protect his rights as an individual," Sid Salter, MSU's chief communications officer, told the Clarion-Ledger.
The shirts have since been removed from the Matthew Print Company website, but the irony remains: Prescott, who under the NCAA's draconian amateurism regulations is unable to profit from his own name or likeness, is being forced by the NCAA and Mississippi State—two organizations that directly profit from Prescott's likeness—to sue a company that's attempting to profit from his likeness.
That may raise some ethical red flags, but it's nothing new for the NCAA. And at least there's a clear lesson to be learned here: If you're looking to sell apparel even tangentially related to a college or university, do your licensing homework first.
Related story: NCAA To Stop Selling Branded School Merchandise