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Kansas changes autograph policy for fan day

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, August 13, 2013, at 9:46 p.m.

— Put it this way: It appears the questions surrounding Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s autograph habits have caused other schools to take measures to quash any potential ink issues.

Kansas coach Charlie Weis took special care Tuesday at his weekly news conference to explain the program’s policy on autographs for Saturday’s annual Fan Appreciation Day at Memorial Stadium.

KU players and coaching staff will be available to sign autographs after the practice, but if fans bring any items from home to be signed, those autographs must be personalized. That means the autograph is addressed to a specific person, making it less valuable than a plain autograph.

“Any items … that are not Kansas promotional items,” Weis said, “(they) have to be personalized.”

Most years, such a detail would probably be swept aside. But with the NCAA reportedly investigating Manziel over allegations that he accepted money from autograph brokers to sign items and memorabilia in bulk, KU’s response is another example of schools being more judicious in their rules for autographs.

By mandating that items be personalized, Kansas can fight back against autograph brokers and secondary markets online. Other schools are taking precautionary measures.

Miami is following similar guidelines this weekend at its annual CanesFest, where players will only be allowed to sign school-sponsored posters. Louisville has reportedly stopped autograph signing at its Cardinals Fan Day, which is Sunday.

“You all know about all the stuff that’s going on, and this is our happy medium,” Weis said. “Promotional items we put out, people can just sign. If somebody brings something on their own, it’ll have to be personalized.

“We’re trying to do the happy middle of the road, to try to appease everything, but still to comply … (and) not put us in a precarious situation.”

KU’s Fan Appreciation Day is free and open to the public. Memorial Stadium gates will open at 10:45 a.m. Saturday and a team practice is slated to run from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Weis also said that no cameras would be allowed to be used inside the stadium during practice. Fans, however, can take photos during the autograph session.

Harwell waits — To the end, Nick Harwell was left with a little sliver of hope. Maybe the NCAA would step in at the last minute and rule on his behalf. He’d heard that was a possibility, anyway, and he was holding out for a last-minute Hail Mary.

Harwell, just six credits short of graduation at Miami (Ohio), had spent all summer lobbying the school to allow him to graduate after he was dismissed last spring for some off-field troubles. He was hoping he might be able to play right away at Kansas as a graduate transfer, and his dreams of being an NFL wide receiver could be expedited by a year.

But last week, when KU coach Charlie Weis announced that Harwell would redshirt this season, the transfer receiver knew any last-second prayers wouldn’t be answered.

“It’s been very suspenseful,” Harwell said, “not knowing if I was going to play again.”

Now Harwell knows the answer — it just won’t be until next year. He’ll spend the next year as a rare senior redshirt, before being eligible to play his fifth year in 2014.

“When you transfer from somewhere, the transition is really tough,” Harwell said. “I feel like this year off will give me time to get familiar with the offense, get my timing down with the quarterback and be able to help our team actually get better.”

That last part is especially important for Harwell, and not just for the reasons you might think. After recording 97 receptions for 1,425 yards in 2011, Harwell had 68 catches in nine games last year. He is a receiver with NFL aspirations, and he’s hopeful KU can provide a suitable path to the professional ranks.

“The better the team, the most like you are to get drafted,” Harwell said. “So I want to help the team get better.”

For now, though, Harwell has plenty of other goals while he prepares for a two-year stint at Kansas. First and foremost, he’d like to graduate. He’s pretty close — even after the transfer — and he should be able to accomplish that before playing again.

If Harwell was tempted by the NFL Draft after last season, he says the pull of the league was diminished by a knee injury that caused him to miss three games last season.

“I decided I wanted to play my senior year before I entered the draft or anything like that,” Harwell says. “So me getting in trouble didn’t change any of my thoughts.”

In addition, he’d like to rebuild his reputation after a series of mishaps at Miami (Ohio). The off-field trouble began with a handful of minor, alcohol-related offenses during his first two years at the school, and the ended with a misdemeanor charge of attempted theft involving an incident with his girlfriend.

The particulars of the case were ironic — he was accused of stealing his girlfriend’s cap and gown after an argument — and Harwell would like to work to leave his issues in the past.

“Every day I just thought about what happened, and I reflected on myself,” Harwell said. “I was just going through a hard time, but I stepped back and looked at it, and thanked god for another opportunity at Kansas.”

Harwell said his transfer to KU happened quickly. Weis’ offense is similar to one he ran at Miami during his freshman season, and he liked the idea of playing with KU quarterback Jake Heaps. Now he’ll have to wait, but that definitely beats the alternative of never playing again.

“Hopefully I graduate before I’m able to play my last season,” Harwell said. “Just show people that the small mishap that I had really isn’t me, and just enjoy my stay here at Kansas for right now.”

Reach Rustin Dodd at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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