(Note: Raleigh News & Observer Staff Photo by Ethan Hyman)
The line stretching from the edge of the west concourse at Carter-Finley Stadium to the front of the Murphy Center was concrete evidence that the reward of a scholarship in no way properly compensates college athletes for their value to an athletic department.
On Meet the Pack Day on Saturday, N.C. State fans waited for more than an hour in the hot sun for autographs from the table where the quarterbacks, place-kickers and punters sat.
Though Josh Czajkowski is a fine kicker, they obviously weren’t there for him. “Russell Wilson,” seven-year-old Johnny Barnes Jr. of Sanford replied when asked who he was waiting to meet.
Barnes wore a jersey bearing Wilson’s number, 16, that had been purchased for him about two weeks ago. Colleges get rich off the licensing fees for these jerseys, and it’s funny how number 16 is in vogue now at N.C. State.
And how number 17 was the hot jersey when Philip Rivers wore it at N.C. State.
And how number 50 North Carolina Tar Heel basketball jerseys are everywhere in the afterglow of Tyler Hansbrough’s illustrious career.
And how number 4 Duke jerseys were the rage when J.J. Redick was setting scoring records for the Blue Devils.
Clearly fans purchase jerseys that are replicas of those worn by their favorite players. Yet those players don’t get a dime for the exploitation of their image by the colleges.
They aren’t compensated for their effect on the bottom line, either. N.C. State just announced that season tickets at Carter-Finley are sold out for the ninth straight season despite a struggling economy.
Athletic director Lee Fowler attributed that to excitement over the program’s progress under coach Tom O’Brien. But let’s give credit where credit is due, to Russell Wilson, the returning first-team All-ACC quarterback.
The line for O’Brien’s autograph was about one-third the length of the line for Wilson’s autograph. It’s unlikely N.C. State would have sold out this season if not for the excitement over Wilson.
Even 7-year-old Johnny Barnes understands Wilson’s effect on a game after attending the Papajohns.com Bowl last season. Barnes described how N.C. State played well in the bowl game until Wilson was hurt. Without him in the second half, the Wolfpack lost a come-from-behind decision to Rutgers.
Without Wilson, the Wolfpack wasn’t close to a .500 football team last season and wouldn’t be terribly attractive to fans this season. With Wilson, seats for Thursday’s opener against South Carolina are the hottest ticket in town, and his autograph is in high demand.
Jennifer Decker, 26, of Siler City held a jersey draped over her right arm in hopes Wilson would sign on the “1” or the “6” on the back.
Gaye Clifton, Ken Clifton and their daughter Kristina of Greensboro stood in line for one hour and 20 minutes for Wilson’s autograph. And they had lined up early to wait for their opportunity.
"We considered ourselves lucky when we turned around and saw the line behind us,” Gaye Clifton said.
The Cliftons witnessed one of Wilson’s oddest signings of the day, as he held an infant in one arm and affixed his signature to the child’s tiny Wolfpack outfit. Wilson handled his duty cheerfully and used the opportunity to communicate a message.
He wrote “1 Corinthians 13” each time he signed, referencing a Bible verse on the importance of love. That was appropriate, because he certainly had to be feeling loved Saturday.
"He’s fast,” little Johnny Barnes said admiringly.
For now, though, love is all Wilson will get. N.C. State gets all the money generated by fans’ affection for the quarterback.
That's how the NCAA works.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Posted by Observer Sports at 9:43 PM