Razorback Basketball Photo Shoot in NWA Magazine Could Be Violation of NCAA Rules

Arkansas basketball players Rotnei Clarke, Jeff Peterson and Courtney Fortson may have violated NCAA rules by appearing in a local magazine section highlighting clothing options from Northwest Arkansas stores.

Clarke, Fortson and Peterson are featured in the December issue of Northwest Arkansas magazine Celebrate Arkansas, in which their photos are tied in to the promotion of local clothing retailers. Razorback coach John Pelphrey is also featured in the magazine and Clarke appears on the cover.

Contained in the publication are the players in fashion magazine-type poses with descriptions on where to buy the players’ “look” as part of the caption on each photo. It appears essentially to be an advertisement, although the feature is labeled as the “cover story.”

NCAA bylaw 12.5.2 outlines “nonpermissible” use of a student-athlete in advertising. Rule says that an athlete is not eligible for competition if he/she “accepts any remuneration or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind.”

Celebrate Arkansas mentions that the players “let us dress them up in designer duds from local boutiques and force their hands at a little modeling, all with smiles on their faces.”

No immediate clarification was available from the NCAA of how the rule pertains to this situation. A spokesman for the organization declined to comment but did send a copy of the bylaw as part of an e-mail.

How or if this would immediately affect the players’ eligibility is unclear, but the bylaw states that athletes who knowingly participate in advertising are ineligible. It is unclear if players knew how the photos would be used.

Arkansas officials were not immediately available to comment. A comment is expected and the university is aware of the “magazine article,” a spokesman said.

Celebrate Arkansas Publisher Mari Taylor did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the magazine spread, which featured goods from local men’s stores Baumans, Walker Brothers and Soho. Jewelers Blakeman’s, Underwoods and Romance Diamonds are also part of the package.

Clarke, the Razorbacks’ leading scorer, takes up the entire cover, which reads: “3-point Sensation Rotnei Clarke Joins Razorback Teammates And Coach Pel in Hot Full-Court Fashion.” The spread appears over 10 pages and the photos were shot inside Bud Walton Arena.

Each player has full page devoted to his “Fashion Stats.” Listed are the height and weight, along with shoe, shirt and pants sizes for Clarke, Peterson and Fortson. Fortson has missed all nine regular season games for the Hogs this year under indefinite suspension by Pelphrey. Reasons for the suspension have not been said. Peterson is a transfer from Iowa and must sit out the season before becoming eligible to play.

Photos for the feature are credited to StudioElevation.com, a company that boasts “cutting edge advertising photos in Northwest Arkansas.” Celebrate Arkansas is among the clients listed on the Studio Elevation Web site.

Some editorial copy accompanies part of the “Suited Up” feature. Each player participated in a question-and-answer feature, and assistant coach Rob Evans is quoted giving his thoughts on Clarke, Fortson and Peterson.

Promoting fashion appears to be at the center of the feature, however.

Peterson participated in a second, fashion-related Q&A with Celebrate. It’s described as an attempt to get to know “about his own personal style” and focuses on Peterson’s favorite place to shop, his favorite designer and “favorite look on a woman.”

Accompanying the Q&A is a sidebar with “Fashion Rules to Play By.” “Even if your personal style is a little more relaxed like Jeff’s, these four items are fashion must-haves for all men.” What follows are photos of watches, ties and designer jeans from the local businesses.

Players participated in the shoot before the regular season. Fortson, in fact, sent out a Twitter photo of himself preparing for the event and was dressed in the same gray pinstripe suit and red-and-white bowtie he dons in the magazine.

Arkansas (4-5) is in the midst of a nine-day break from action. The Razorbacks return to the court on Wednesday against Alabama State at 7 p.m.

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