Today, in some ways, we consider the overproduction era the nadir of the hobby. For issues such as 1988 Topps baseball. we can probably burn a set for every man, woman and child in America and still have more than enough left over to satisfy collectors’ needs. However, because the era was so fertile in collecting, there were new organizations looking to cash in on what we can now safely call the card collecting craze. One of those groups which produced more sets during this period than any other were colleges and universities looking to cash in on the interest.
There were countless sets in all the sports and some of them even featured some of the best pro prospects of the time. Now understand we are not talking about sets such as Classic, Star Pics and Courtside which were issued during these years and featured players who had exhausted their eligibility or were about to turn professional. No, these were sets which were actually issued by the colleges themselves.
A good example is in 1992-93, before he began his professional career, future NHL great Paul Kariya was featured in the first of his Maine Black Bears sets. There was a Memphis State set with Penny Hardaway and a Michigan set that featured members of the Fab Five.
The reason we bring up these cards as being underrated in collecting history is because the landscape is changing and there is little doubt the college athletics of even 2020 are going to be far different than what we have today.
Friday’s ruling in the Ed O’Bannon case would seem to indicate that courts have sided with players who want to be compensated for their images. While most mention video games, trading cards are certainly in the discussion. The ruling allows for a trust fund to be established for players to tap into after graduation.It's essentially going to allow athletes to share in the licensing revenue. The NCAA, of course, plans to appeal.
One wonders if trading card sets produced by colleges will be far behind. Autographs and photos of most of the players would not cost very much but a noted player such as Johnny Manziel could have been paid in a way where randomly signed cards could have made their way into a football card set produced by the school.
It would have resulted in big sales, made his teammates some extra money and given players the opportunity to satisfy demand in a far more controlled atmosphere. This way, both the players and the teams could work out an agreement and everyone wins in this arrangement.
The NCAA has also announced that the five ‘power’ conferences are going to be able to do considerably more for their student athletes than a standard scholarship. Although all the details had not yet been worked out, I would suspect that a "hobby-savvy" person aligned with one of those colleges will start the process of creating card sets featuring those active players and providing a stipend for their usage. And many of these colleges, obviously, have long and storied histories. Upper Deck is already producing college sets featuring former players through their CLC license but I suspect the court rulings will really open things up for current players, too. Changes are coming to a head and soon. So let's come up with systems that work for the players, the teams and their fans and ensure everyone will be happy going forward.
Wouldn't it be cool to have a set with the stars of yesterday and today? A Notre Dame Heisman subset with autographs would be fun. So would a UCLA basketball set with autographs from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and the other greats. SEC football card sets with autographs would be huge sellers as new stars are born each season.
I'm now really curious to see how long these sets take to develop and I won’t be surprised if parallels, inserts, relics and autographs are included and these sets become major success stories. This could very well be the next frontier to see how we can interest a new collecting generation as these players are also going to be closer in age to younger people. It also could be a safe way to put some spending money into the hands of the players without taking under the table payments. Maybe the late Lud Denny and Pro Set were prescient way back in the early 1990's when they pictured Ty Detmer on a card because of the chance he would leave college early. He did not, but today he could be paid for that image and all would be perfectly normal.
I wish when I was in college I would have had a chance to find signed cards of our campus heroes. Among them were two players who were good enough to be drafted. I remember an NBA coach asking me…me!...for a scouting report on one of them. I asked why he wanted my opinion and he said “I’ve seen you do the stats and how intently watch. You pay close attention to the players and the games.” Cards for the players he was looking at would have provided me with a lifetime memory.
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