Is Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez's association with the apparel company Corn Fed a violation of NCAA rules? Cornhusker officials say no, but they also severed their licensing deal with Corn Fed on Wednesday after the Wiz presented information to officials that tied Taylor to the family business.
The licensing deal was first reported on Dec. 29 by the Los Angeles Times. The report said that Casey Martinez, Taylor's father and owner of Corn Fed, and Nebraska had agreed to the deal in 2007, about a year before Taylor committed to play for the Cornhuskers.
NCAA officials said at the time the agreement did not violate any rules.
However, a week after the L.A. Times report, the Wiz learned that "Corn Fed" was a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The last listed owner was Taylor Martinez.
In addition, the domain CornFed.com was registered to Taylor Martinez. The domain has been made private in recent days, but a copy of the original document containing Taylor's name is included at the end of this post.
On Jan. 14, the Wiz contacted Michael Stephens, Nebraska assistant athletic director for marketing, licensing and concessions, about the documents. On Jan. 21, copies of the trademark and URL documents were sent to Stephens. Nebraska responded Wednesday with its statement from athletic director Tom Osborne:
"The licensing relationship with Corn Fed began in the summer of 2007 before our football program had initiated any recruiting contact with Taylor and his family, or had any knowledge of Taylor as a prospective student-athlete. Corn Fed is a solid company which has demonstrated success in the apparel business, and has been a licensee not only of Nebraska, but several other schools around the country. There is nothing in the licensing agreement between the two parties that is in any way non-compliant with NCAA rules.
"We have recently learned that while Taylor Martinez has no ownership in Corn Fed Apparel, Inc., he is registered as the owner of the Corn Fed trademark, and also the CornFed.com domain name. Again, this arrangement does not violate any NCAA rules.
"However, because of the attention this agreement has caused, Casey Martinez recently initiated a conversation with Nebraska about ending the licensing relationship. Both parties agreed that it would be prudent to no longer have a licensing relationship between the University of Nebraska and Corn Fed. Both the Martinez family and the University of Nebraska feel this decision is best for all parties, and specifically in helping limit distractions for Taylor and the football program."
Stephens was asked Wednesday if Taylor's eligibility could be in jeopardy because his name was listed on the documents. He said no, then referred all other questions to Keith Mann, Nebraska's assistant athletic director for media relations.
Casey Martinez issued a no comment to the Times on Wednesday when asked why the Corn Fed domain was changed in recent days to a private registration. He did issue the following statement:
"As Coach Osborne stated, I made the decision to end our agreement to prevent any distractions to my son's time at the University of Nebraska, as well as the football program. Although the agreement between Corn Fed and University of Nebraska was established before my son was even a football recruit."
"No monetary gain is worth potential distractions to the football program or our son that may be associated with this agreement. Licensed sales make up a very small portion to our national sales, with the bulk of our sales coming from non-licensed sales from our blue-collar customer base that consists of professional athletes and musicians that wear the Corn Fed brand founded on work ethics and traditional values that will not be compromised."
According to the Times, Corn Fed also established licensing deals with Iowa State (April 2008), Iowa (June 2008) and Northern Iowa (February 2009). The deal with Northern Iowa has been terminated.
Nebraska received a 10% royalty on all Corn Fed products it sells. Stephens told the TImes that the arrangement had paid the school less than $500 over the three-plus years.
Here are the documents. First is the trademark document. At the bottom left is the original domain registration. The bottom right is the domain as it is now registered. Click an image to enlarge: