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Shockers’ popularity leads to increase in autographed items – and problems

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at 11:49 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, June 7, 2014, at 12:49 p.m.

Wichita State vs. Cal Poly/Texas Southern

When: 6:10 p.m. Friday

Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis

Records: WSU 34-0, CP 13-19, TS19-14

TV: KWCH

No. 2 Wichita State vs. Cal Poly/

Texas Southern

When: 6:10 p.m. Friday

Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis

Records: WSU 34-0, CP 13-19, TS 19-14

TV: KWCH

It is common to see a box of baseballs near the stairs that lead to the Eck Stadium clubhouse, ready for Wichita State players to sign. The volleyball Shockers often end practice sprawled on the gym floor to sign posters and balls.

It is not hard to imagine the increased demand for autographs and time from Wichita State’s men’s basketball players during this high-profile time in the NCAA Tournament.

With all the attention comes the potential for trouble, and the NCAA likes to stay ahead of trouble, especially when it comes to sports wagering. The Shockers watched a 30-minute video, narrated by Clark Kellogg of CBS Sports, on the dangers of gambling last week.

They received a handout reminding them not to accept meals or gifts from fans and avoid agents. They are warned not to sell jerseys or a spot on the complimentary ticket list. Appearing in an ad that endorses a product is forbidden. Random drug tests, they are reminded, are coming from the NCAA. Players fill out an affidavit affirming that they haven’t had contact with agents, taken benefits from professional teams or gambled.

The NCAA, always eager to regulate, limits athletes and coaches to “apparel items that bear only ONE company logo mark on all pieces. The logo may not exceed a 2 1/4 square-inch limitation.”

When the Shockers bus to the airport on Wednesday for the flight to St. Louis, the team will watch another NCAA-mandated video, this one 11 minutes long and narrated by Michael Franzese, a former crime boss.

“We don’t know what the next man has planned for autographs or tickets,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “You never know who’s scalping them or trying to buy them. We’re just staying away from that. We’ve got great people in charge who are trying to keep us out of trouble.”

Associate athletic director Korey Torgerson is the primary person in charge of keeping the Shockers on the right path. He handles NCAA compliance issues for the athletic department. With more success comes more attention and more people wanting a piece of the Shockers. That creates more concerns for him.

“The circus is getting bigger,” he said. “When you hear stories about what tickets are going for online, you never know how creative outside people might be to get a ticket.”

A check of eBay on Tuesday revealed an team-autographed WSU ball for $800 and a signed Sports Illustrated with the Shockers on the cover for $149. Another signed basketball is going for $599.99. The market for an autographed Gregg Marshall business card is more modest — current bid of $1.04. A Sports Illustrated signed by Marshall is offered for $199.

The sellers may not get their asking price, but the market for the Shockers gets stronger with each win.

Those are the examples that haunt Torgerson. He is supposed to monitor those kind of sites and send cease-and-desist letters. In reality, it is impossible to stop most people from selling items.

“We’ve heard stories of people hanging around after games that are just handing players balls and other items to be autographed,” he said. “They’re hanging around for 45 minutes to an hour.”

To combat those entrepreneurs, Torgerson advises players to personalize autographs. Players receive four comp tickets for NCAA Tournament games, six if they reach the Final Four. They are asked to limit those tickets to family members and girlfriends.

“By personalizing the autograph, it then lessens the temptation for someone to want to put it on eBay,” Torgerson said.

Last March, Torgerson began surveying compliance people at other schools to see how they handle an increase in fame.

“There are lot of benefits to being 34-0,” he said. “ Sometimes, there are a few headaches that go with 34-0. We would all say those challenges are worth the success we’ve had.”

Cotton on the cover — Shocker junior Tekele Cotton has some heavy-duty company on this week’s regional Sports Illustrated cover.

Former Shocker All-Americans Antoine Carr and Xavier McDaniel are among the 27 fans surrounding Cotton in the pre-NCAA Tournament preview issue. The headline reads, “The Madness Begins – Awe, Shocks: Unbeaten Wichita State is Title Game Bound (Antoine Carr and X-Man Approve This Message)”

The issue is expected to hit retailers Wednesday.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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