LSU attorneys are investigating whether star running back Leonard Fournette violated NCAA rules when his family set up a website before his college debut to sell gear emblazoned with Fournette’s catchphrase, according to a report from USA Today.
The NCAA bars athletes or their families from profiting off their likeness. At issue is whether the merchandise that was on sale for 24 hours in August of last year violates those rules: it doesn’t directly mention Fournette, who until this week was the Heisman frontrunner, but reads “BUGA Nation” on caps and shirts in LSU colors. “BUGA” stands for “Being United Generates Attitude,” and Fournette has made it his thing since his high school days.
Paul Price, described as the Fournette family’s manager, paid $10,000 (and still owes more) to have the site set up and to produce the merchandise, according to the companies he contracted. It went live on Aug. 27, 2014—three days before LSU’s season opener in Fournette’s freshman year—and went dark the next day. The orders that were taken were not fulfilled.
The companies said they raised their concerns over potential NCAA violations, but that Price assured them he had cleared everything.
“He said he crossed his T’s and dotted his I’s making sure the NCAA wasn’t going to be shutting it down,” Hanley said.
Even if the site didn’t actually sell any merchandise, it could still run afoul of NCAA bylaws because of the discounts Price and the Fournette’s received. The three companies involved told USA Today they charged about $20,000 less than their going rates, because they believed they would more than make it up thanks to brisk sales due to Fournette’s popularity.
As for why these companies are talking to the press now: the owner of the company that set up the website says Price still owes nearly $15,000 for the work, and the matter is in collections.
There are a host of interesting questions here, even setting aside how absurd it is that players like Fournette, who make a ton of money for everyone else, can’t make any for himself or his family. The Fournette family reportedly insisted that their son’s name and image not appear on the merchandise or website, but does that matter when everyone associates “BUGA” with him? If that’s a problem, then why was Les Miles allowed to tweet it during a recruiting dead period? And why is LSU’s official online store allowed to sell a ton of No. 7 gear?
This will and should go away quietly, perhaps as a self-reported infraction that the NCAA takes no action on. In the meantime, we hope Fournette and every other marketable college athlete are getting theirs under the table somewhere.