Senior Jonathan Benjamin can finally publicize his clothing line with his own name after more than a year of marketing and product development.
Benjamin, a former University of Richmond varsity basketball player, developed his own clothing line, Official Visit Activewear, or OVAW, in Professor Adam Marquardt's principles of marketing class during the summer of 2011.
What began as a simple class project grew into a thriving business after months of hard work, Marquardt said. But as a student-athlete, Benjamin was unable to market the clothing with his own name or image because of NCAA rules.
"Per NCAA regulations, student-athletes cannot use their name, image, likeness or reputation to promote their own company," Maura Smith said, Richmond's assistant athletic director for compliance.
Benjamin said that he had been unaware of these regulations when he had first created the company, and had even used pictures of himself and some fellow athletes to promote his product on social media. After some time, he went to the compliance office because he had some suspicions as to whether his actions were legal.
The compliance office advised him to remove the pictures from his Facebook and Twitter accounts to protect him from any possible NCAA sanctions, but miscommunication between Benjamin and the company that handled his screen-printing led to an NCAA investigation.
The company, DePaul's T-Shirt Factory, is a screen-printing company based in Rochester, N.Y., that made the OVAW apparel. The owners asked Benjamin to use OVAW to promote their own business, but after Benjamin repeatedly told them that he would have to get permission from the NCAA, they decided to go straight to the NCAA themselves.
The NCAA then searched through Benjamin's Facebook profile and found pictures of athletes wearing his OVAW clothing, and uninstated him as a member of the NCAA. He said that he had heard from the compliance office that he was no longer able to play college basketball because he had violated NCAA rules.
"I thought it was a joke at first," Benjamin said. "I didn't really think they would kick me off of the team because of this. It was then that I realized how serious this was."
Benjamin said that the members of the compliance office had helped him write a plea letter to the NCAA with hopes of being reinstated and finishing his basketball career at Richmond. After the appeal, Benjamin was given the option to either continue playing and promise to not use athletes for promotion, or quit.
"I didn't think about quitting for a second," he said. "I couldn't give up either one: basketball or OVAW."
Benjamin finished his final season as a member of the Richmond Spiders basketball team last month, continuing to run his business in a more cautious manner. Now that the season is over, he said he had more freedom to work on his business and promote it himself.
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He said that he wanted to continue his business after graduation and had plans to expand his brand to more colleges. In the near future, Benjamin plans to create a website and to build a promotion team, made up primarily of fellow athletes.
"I've been helping Jon for a while with different types of marketing strategies," said Kendall Gaskins, former Spider football player. "As a former athlete, I have ties to both current and former athletes, such as Justin Harper, and can get them on board to promote OVAW."
Benjamin said that his experiences as a student-athlete at Richmond had helped him learn a lot about running a business, and he hoped to use these experiences to help him spread OVAW to a wider audience in the future.
Contact report JR Riddick at firstname.lastname@example.org
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