FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas players signed autographs for two hours during the team’s Fan Day festivities in Bud Walton Arena Saturday.
The meet-and-greet function has become a preseason staple the past several years, giving fans a brief chance to get close to the Razorbacks and have items signed by players. Defensive end Trey Flowers said it’s one of the highlights of preseason camp for him, too, because it’s another sign the opener is right around the corner.
“It’s an honor,” Flowers said last week. “It’s a lot of Hog fans. Hog nation coming out. It just gets me amped for the season. .... It’s a humbling experience to give back.”
But the event — like others around the country — is under the spotlight a little more this year because of an ongoing autograph controversy involving Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The NCAA is trying to determine if the Heisman Trophy winner signed thousands of autographs for brokers in exchange for pay.
While no one will have the chance to sign hundreds for brokers at fan day events, potential dangers have led to changes at a few places this summer. One example: Louisville eliminated the opportunity for fans to get autographs from players last week. Also, Miami only allowed players to sign a poster provided by the school.
Arkansas hasn’t altered any of the details about its autograph-signing policies because of the Manziel story this summer, according to senior associate athletic director Kevin Trainor. The Razorbacks don’t think it’s necessary because they’ve been proactive regarding their autograph policies for years.
“For a number of years, we have had in place item limits for signatures at fan days and other autograph opportunities,” Trainor said in an e-mail last week. “In the pre-publicity for this event, we mentioned only one item could be signed per fan.”
The school will provide posters for fans who attend the event and encourage those to be signed by players. But it’s not a requirement like at Miami. Arkansas doesn’t have a restriction on what one item a person can have signed by players today.
Trainor said Arkansas has staff members on site to monitor the autograph signings to ensure compliance, though. The school also instructs players to personalize individual signatures in hopes of discouraging people from selling them. They’ve also cautioned players to avoid signing multiple items for the same person.
“Recent events have only given us an opportunity to reaffirm those instructions to our student-athletes while also trying to preserve the fan experience of meeting and interacting with Razorback student-athletes at fan day events,” Trainor said.
Ultimately, what happens to their signatures during program-supported functions like Fan Day is out of the players’ hands.
While most of the items signed today will remain keepsakes for children or die-hard fans, it’s not unusual to see many up for sale after signing events. Arkansas kicker Zack Hocker said shrugging it off is the only way to approach the event, though.
“You just sign and move on,” Hocker said. “I’ve seen several times where guys will sign balls and the next second they’re selling for a lot of money. But it’s one of those things. You can’t let it get to you, bother you. Sign it for the fans and act like it’s another fan and go about your business.
“We’re on a stage and people want those autographs. Whatever we can give back to the community is awesome whether people take advantage of it or not.”
Hocker said as of Friday night the program hadn’t gone over any details, specifically, about Fan Day. But Hocker also joked that Arkansas autographs may not be in as high demand after last season, when the Razorbacks had plenty of well-known players like Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, Cobi Hamilton and Chris Gragg.
“We don’t have any Heisman Trophy candidates walking around campus right now,” Hocker said. “But at the same time, they understand that the spotlight is big and they’re going to do anything they can legally to keep our team out of trouble.”
The Manziel situation has raised questions about whether players should be permitted to collect compensation for their signatures. It’s a debate sure to continue as the Manziel case goes on. But Flowers said his teammates know what the rules stipulate right now: Exchanging their signatures for pay is not permitted.
“I believe everybody knows better than that,” Flowers said. “We’ve got a lot of compliance meetings that stress those issues like that. You can’t accept money for things. I’m pretty sure everyone is aware of that.”