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The Strange Phenomenon Of Second-Hand Autographs from College Athletes

The odd, sometimes shady business of autograph collecting.

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Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Since we are in the off-season, I thought this might be a good time to talk about a strange phenomenon that has me a bit perplexed: buying an autograph from a dealer.

If you are a college football fan, you likely heard about the drama that went on in Athens, GA this past fall with Todd Gurley accepting "more than $3,000 in cash from multiple individuals for autographed memorabilia over two years". After an in-house investigation, UGA suspended their star running back for two games (against Missouri and Arkansas). The NCAA benched him two more games (against Florida and Kentucky) based on NCAA by-laws that said he would have to sit out 30 percent of his team's schedule.

This conversation is not meant to reignite the debate over whether college athletes should be paid nor whether they should be allowed to sell rights of their likenesses. The real question I want to ask today:

Why would you buy an autograph of someone you have not met?

UGA and Gurley got into this mess because there was a demand for second-hand autographs. Some dealers make a good living off acquiring autographs from athletes and reselling them at an inflated price.

Making a quick look at ebay, there are plenty of people willing to pay from $14.26 on up to $54.99 for an autographed picture of the Bulldogs rising sophomore Nick Chubb. Alabama fans are not immune to this activity. Somebody out there spent $105 on a white jersey signed by Derrick Henry. Another Gump ponied up $270 for a crimson jersey with Nick Saban's signature on it. Why?

I can appreciate that people are big fans of a sports team but what value does one derive from these second-hand items? Imagine Joe Gump buys one of these items and then the next time a buddy comes by the house, he shows it off. The first question the friend will ask is "where did you get that?" The cool answer would be, "I met him" or even better "he is a friend." But the real answer is "I bought it from somebody I don't know who met him. Maybe."

Back in the 1980s before they got really big, R.E.M. played a concert at Foster Auditorium. If you were in attendance, you have a great story. But is the story so great if you were not there?

For the multitude of you out there that go to A-Day and stand in line to get a signature scribbled on something, you actually get to meet the players and/or coach for a brief moment, maybe even have a nice little conversation. I get that. It's kinda cool. There is some interaction with your favorite player and you have a good story for your friends. You can say what a nice guy he was or maybe he said he liked your shirt or something. When you buy from a dealer, you don't have that intimacy. Heck, you don't even know if the person actually signed it. So why would you plunk down your hard earned cash for for such an impersonal item?

One more point is that these dealers are making money off the goodwill of these young men. These guys go out and play a full game. Afterwards, they probably just want to get into the locker room. Yet, they are willing to stay out there extra time to give back to what they perceive are the fans. But the dealers are not fans. They are out making quick and easy cash off you and your gridiron heroes. Furthermore, there are some dealers who don't want to stand in line. So they do under the table deals which lead to situations like they had at the University of Georgia. By the way, the Bulldogs probably could've used Gurley in that loss against Florida which basically killed their national championship aspirations.

Fans of other programs may look at Georgia and scoff. However the next time, it could be your favorite player on your favorite team. Todd Gurley made a conscious and selfish decision at the risk of his team and school. But the dealers are culpable too. They chase these athletes with money and don't care what happens to the school, as long as they make a buck. Personally, I'd like to see these shifty peddlers put out of business. If you really care about your team, I encourage you to NOT buy autographs of players from your team until after their eligibility is up.