Monday, August 12, 2013

Sign of the time for Cardinals

If you want University of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s signature, then you better have a summons.

Bridgewater isn’t signing autographs anymore nor or the rest of the football Cardinals. Head Coach Charlie Strong has replaced the team’s regular fan day autograph session with an extra public scrimmage. This is a radical reversal for Strong who scheduled autograph sessions both before and after his team won the Sugar Bowl.

I know this because my son and I stood in the line at one of them, getting signatures for my favorite Sugar Bowl keepsake, which is an autographed poster framed with a family photo and some Bourdon Street beads.

Strong was particularly gracious with autograph seekers that day. His change of heart is obviously in reaction to Texas A & M quarterback Johnny Manziel allegedly being paid thousands of dollars by an autograph broker to sign memorabilia, placing his college eligibility in jeopardy.

I appreciate Strong’s passion for running a clean program. However, the answer to the Manziel situation isn’t to reduce fan access or even crack down on the autograph market, it’s simply educating and policing players. If Manziel is in trouble, it’s not because he signed autographs, but because he got paid.

I can’t imagine there’s a huge market for most U of L players’ signatures outside the Cardinals’ fan base. In that regard, Strong’s policy hurts his own fans most. Additionally, it risks placing a wedge between the Cardinals and their fans. After all, gathering autographs is a time-tested tradition that builds relationships, especially with younger fans.

U of L Basketball Head Coach Rick Pitino knows this. He has been signing so many bottles he’s probably got carpel tunnel syndrome. His players are signing, too. I recently got Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell to sign a championship basketball. You can find that ball proudly displayed on my shelf; not in an eBay listing.

The space for a football will apparently remain empty.

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