At a time when none of his players can make money off their fame in college sports, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney has trademarked his name.
Ohio State is in the process of trademarking coach Urban Meyer's name and the phrase "Urban Meyer Knows," U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records show. Kansas State has a detailed licensing agreement to use the name and likeness of Bill Snyder. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian negotiated the right to approve all uses of his name, voice, signature or likeness.
It's a trend across the country.
Yet if a player at any of these schools doesn't like the way he looks in an ad promoting the football program, his only power to change it is to make a request — which the school is free to honor or reject.
In federal court and among those who run major-college sports, debate rages over NCAA amateurism rules and the rights of athletes, who receive scholarships that arguably are worth well more than $100,000 a year but are not compensated for the use of their names and likenesses, such as in action photographs sold by some schools or on replica jerseys bearing the numbers of star players.
There is no debate among the big-dollar coaches already in the money: They are arriving at increasingly creative ways to define and protect their rights and financial interests.
Swinney even has a deal under Clemson's licensing program to sell merchandise that bears his name. His attorney has opened discussions with Clemson athletics director Dan Radakovich about adding a separate licensing agreement to Swinney's employment contract.
"I would say that next to (Alabama coach) Nick Saban, Dabo's name and likeness probably means as much to" Clemson as any football coach's name and likeness means to his school, says Swinney's agent, Mike Brown.
Kansas State, home to Bill Snyder Family Stadium, might argue the point. And it might offer its six-page license agreement with Snyder as proof. Chris Petersen has a similar deal at Boise State, where football and "Coach Pete" are synonymous.
"I don't know if I could trademark the name Dan," Clemson's Radakovich says with a chuckle. "But people like Urban and Dabo — those are unique — and everybody has to take advantage of what opportunities are placed in front of them.
"I don't know that any of us know exactly where all of this is going to go, but I think that if you have the ability to (make these types of arrangements), it's another protection either for the (coach) or for the university as a lot of these new opportunities begin to unfold."
Under NCAA rules, student-athletes are not allowed to be paid for use of their names and likenesses, and even if they were, it's hard to know what percentage of the roughly 10,000 scholarship football players at Football Bowl Subdivision schools would have market value. Local businesses might be interested in deals with players from a nearby school. But backup linemen are still backup linemen. Unless the team had a collective deal to be divided among all of the players, the biggest deals would most likely go to the biggest stars.
"It would be interesting to go back and see how much money was generated to the University of Florida athletic department by the sale of Tim Tebow jerseys," Brown says.
Valued tied to school?
Yet sales of a jersey are not necessarily an infallible measuring stick. It leads to a central question for coaches and players: Is the value of their name and likeness because of the power of their personal brand or is it largely a function of their association with a given school?
It could be argued either way, and the answer could change over time. For instance, the current value of Saban's name undoubtedly exceeds that of cross-state rival Gus Malzahn at Auburn. Why? Saban has won national championships at Alabama and LSU; while Malzahn might be a rising star, he is in his first season coaching the Tigers.
Whatever the value is, coaches are moving to protect it.
For instance, take Sarkisian — or Sark, as he is often called. When he was hired as Washington's coach in December 2008, "Bark for Sark" connected well with Huskies athletics and became a popular slogan around Seattle. But "Sark" also had appeal beyond references to the mascot. In June 2010, an individual in Kirkland, Wash., submitted an application to trademark the term "Sark Tank." The Patent and Trademark Office rejected it, in part, because Sarkisian had not consented.
"We live in a world where technology and everything else is creating more of these types of opportunities. And coaches are increasingly becoming more active in, and cognizant of, that area," says Gary Uberstine, Sarkisian's agent.
Swinney's trademark stems from a nickname that evolved from a sibling being unable to pronounce his given name, William, and instead calling him "Dat Boy." Its potential value flows from Swinney's quick success at a school where a winning football team trumps just about everything else. In 2008, after being elevated to interim coach in the middle of what had become a flailing season, Swinney led the Tigers to a bowl game. Soon thereafter, the word "interim" disappeared from his title, and Brown was ready.
"When he was the interim coach, people started manufacturing T-shirts and things like that, so … I made the decision, 'We're going to trademark that name and protect it,' " Brown says.
Operated under the umbrella of Clemson's agreement with a licensing agency used by many schools, Collegiate Licensing Co., Swinney's personal deal is the only one CLC has on behalf of an active coach, company spokesman Andrew Giangola says.
Brown says royalties have been minimal, but he says he's been having discussions with a clothing manufacturer about a Swinney line of casual wear.
"I think there's a value to Dabo's name and likeness, and it's to the point now where it can be broken out separately and compensated for separately," Brown says.
South Carolina's employment contract with Steve Spurrier enables it to cash in on Spurrier's name in myriad ways, including a line of signature clothing and hats.
Players release rights
While coaches are securing their rights, players typically sign theirs away.
One of Swinney's players, senior cornerback Darius Robinson, is among five active college athletes who have joined former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon and former Arizona State and Nebraska football player Sam Keller as named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the NCAA concerning the use of college athletes' names and likenesses.
The lawsuit has put a spotlight on an NCAA release form players routinely sign that allows the organization and others to use their names and likenesses to promote NCAA championships and events.
The NCAA maintains that athletes can play regardless of whether they sign the release. But the lawsuit has revealed a more detailed form used by Big Ten Conference schools that conference Commissioner Jim Delany said in a signed statement in March 2013 was being required of all conference athletes.
Washington also uses its own form; while players can opt out, "I have never been involved in a situation where a student-athlete did not want to be involved in promotional activity," Carter Henderson, athletics department spokesman, said via e-mail.
Even with the restrictions on what they receive in exchange for playing, there is little doubt that a typical major-college football player on scholarship receives a valuable package of goods and services. In March 2011, a USA TODAY Sports analysis found that a men's basketball scholarship at one of the FBS schools was worth at least $120,000 annually. The analysis placed a value on everything from tuition and room and board to coaching, academic support and future wages based on some college education.
The total value did not include other benefits such as news media exposure and becoming personalities in their respective markets.
Using the example of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, sports law expert Gary Roberts, former dean of the Indiana University law school in Indianapolis, tells USA TODAY Sports that Manziel and his brand have "acquired a great deal value (from him) playing for Texas A&M, because Texas A&M is a showcase program. Now, he's not allowed to exploit that value while he's at Texas A&M, but there's value building up in his brand."
Roberts summed up a question the courts might answer when he added, "Now, is it right morally and legally that coaches can so fully exploit the value that rests in their skills and publicity rights when athletes cannot?"
Coaches' contracts do grant schools wide-ranging use of their names, images and likenesses — a key to the multimedia rights deals that compensate coaches for their TV and radio shows and bring millions of dollars to the schools. Snyder's separate license agreement with Kansas State acknowledges that the right to use his name in conjunction with the stadium "was previously acquired by the University from Snyder and for which no further consideration is required or to be provided."
But the clear trend is for coaches to seek more control.
Petersen's license agreement says that if Boise State wants to make a product incorporating his name, image or likeness, a sample must be provided to Petersen for his approval. The school is barred from selling the product if it's "reasonably disapproved" by Petersen.
Even coaches' dealings with non-university charitable causes can be very carefully and specifically tailored regarding the coach's name, image and likeness.
In May, Meyer agreed to make TV commercials with prominent Ohio auto dealer Jeff Wyler to promote breast cancer awareness and the availability of free mammograms at one of Wyler's dealerships in exchange for a $100,000 payment to Meyer's foundation.
The terms required a five-page document that included a specific and limited grant of rights to Meyer's name, voice, picture and likeness — and ended with Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith's signature. Wyler said the member of his organization who handled the deal found it to be "more detailed than he would have expected."
It's a different world from 10 years ago, when the school created a name-and-likeness agreement with then-coach Jim Tressel that was two paragraphs long.