The NCAA has suspended A.J. Green for four games for selling the jersey he wore in last year's Independence Bowl to someone who meets the NCAA's definition of an agent. So if you're looking for a Georgia No. 8 jersey direct from Green, you're probably out of luck.
Fortunately, you can buy 22 different variations of Green's No. 8 directly from the Georgia athletic department's official Web site. Want the white replica? That'll cost you $59.99. Want the ladies' version in white and pink? That'll run you $55. Want the red authentic -- a grass stain-free version of the one Green sold? That'll be a cool $150.
For selling one A.J. Green jersey to an agent, Green will miss a third of his junior season, including key SEC games against South Carolina and Arkansas. For selling thousands of A.J. Green jerseys to the masses, the University of Georgia will get a boatload of money.
The former transaction bothers the NCAA a great deal. The latter set of transactions doesn't seem to bother the NCAA at all.
Green was dumb to sell his jersey -- especially since that sale is tantamount to accepting a cash payment from an agent. Though agents have probably swarmed Green since his freshman year, he should have known the NCAA would come down hard if he got caught taking something from any of them. Green also should have known the transaction itself was illegal. After all, it was the sale of SEC championship rings by members of the 2002 Georgia team that caused the NCAA to institute the rule in the first place.
But maybe if the NCAA stopped allowing schools to exploit their best athletes and allowed the players to get even a sliver of the money made off their sweat, Green might not have taken that money in the first place.
At every mall in America, you can contribute to the exploitation of an elite college athlete. In Columbus, you can drop $69.95 to buy your lady a red twilled replica of Terrelle Pryor's No. 2 Ohio State jersey. You might get her undying gratitude -- or a dirty look if she was expecting a diamond tennis bracelet. Pryor will get the same training table meal as the third-string guard whose jersey your girlfriend won't be wearing. In Los Angeles, you can spend $28.95 to outfit your infant in Matt Barkley's No. 7 USC jersey. You'll have the sportiest kid on the block. Barkley will have his tuition paid in the same Western Civilization class as a volleyball player who makes no money for the school.
The schools and the NCAA argue that they aren't the players' jerseys because they don't have the players' names on them, but riddle me this: Why did Florida suddenly start selling No. 15 jerseys after the 2006 season? It probably had nothing to do with a certain popular backup quarterback who was destined to take over the starting job in 2007. Why are the first three jerseys available on the Alabama official team store Web site Nos. 22, 12 and 8? Certainly, it's a mere coincidence that Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, starting quarterback Greg McElroy and star receiver Julio Jones wear those numbers.
The schools and NCAA also might argue that fans are buying the jersey of the school -- not of the player. If that's the case, why put a number on the jersey at all? Easy. No one would buy a blank jersey. Or why not retire an all-time great's number and sell only that jersey. Georgia certainly could sell a bunch of No. 34 jerseys if it wanted to, but it chooses to sell the jerseys of current players. Why? Because Georgia makes more money that way.
Green should get a cut. So should Pryor. So should Barkley.
This is the part where fuddy-duddies predictably come in and say, "He's getting a scholarship. That should be good enough for him." No, it shouldn't.
If the school considers a player so special that it believes putting his number on a replica jersey will bring in more cash, the player deserves a piece. The NCAA should allow each player whose jersey gets sold to receive a cut of the profit. Whatever percentage an NFL player gets for having his jersey sold is the percentage the college player should receive. The money should be placed in a trust and given to the player after he exhausts his eligibility. To keep coaches from using a financial incentive as a recruiting tool, make it illegal to sell a player's jersey until his sophomore year. That way, the player must prove himself on the field. In the process, the potential to profit might sway a player away from taking money from agents.
After learning his penalty Wednesday, Green released a statement. Here's what it said:
"I want to apologize to my coaches, teammates and the Georgia fans for the mistake in judgment. I very much regret all that has taken place and the distraction that's been caused. I've learned a valuable lesson and hope others can learn from my mistake. I can only focus my attention now on practicing and looking ahead to getting back with my teammates as quickly as possible."
Here's what it should have said:
"I shouldn't have sold my jersey. Sorry. Now I'd like my cut from every No. 8 jersey Georgia sold because of me."
If the NCAA and schools weren't in the business of exploiting star athletes, Tim Tebow would have been a millionaire before he signed his first NFL contract. And he would have deserved it. Tebow made a ton of money for Florida (and probably a little for the guy who came up with these. Green will make a lot of money for Georgia -- considerably more than Georgia will give him in tuition, room and board.
Green shouldn't have sold his jersey. But since it never planned to give Green a piece of the action, Georgia shouldn't have sold Green's jersey, either.