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Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Akron wins without Twitter-inspired jerseys

By Myron Medcalf

I think every school in the country should consult Akron for future marketing efforts.

About a month ago, the Zips decided to put the program’s Twitter handle (@ZipsMBB) on the back of its jerseys as part of a social media promotion -- “Social Media Night” -- that will run concurrently with their Saturday home matchup against MAC rival Ohio (5 p.m. ET on ESPNU/WatchESPN app).

Akron
Alex Abreu, left, and Zeke Marshall sport the jersey that the NCAA will not allow the team to wear when it plays Ohio on Saturday.
According to team spokesperson Dallas Moyer, the Zips consulted the NCAA and received a “vague” response that didn’t convince the program that the concept violated NCAA Rule 3, Sec. 5, Art. 5, which states that a jersey shall “identify the school, the school nickname or mascot, or the player’s name.”

“We thought it would go through,” Moyer told ESPN.com on Tuesday.

So the Zips created these promotional jerseys and distributed the images to national media outlets.

Smart move, Zips.

See, it’s a unique concept. And if you’re a mid-major that’s fighting for a slice of the attention that’s given to those programs, you have to think outside of the box.

And that’s exactly what Akron did.

Then, the NCAA did what the NCAA does and spoiled the fun. In a follow-up to its original response, the NCAA told Akron that it could not wear the jerseys, prompting the school to release this statement on Monday:
While we appreciate the social media response, we feel it's important to set the record straight about our @ZipsMBB Social Media Night promotion and the jerseys we will wear for our next home game, as some incorrect information has been reported.

Our Men's Basketball Twitter handle, @ZipsMBB, will not be on the backs of our jerseys when we play on @ESPNU at 5 p.m. Saturday at James A. Rhodes Arena. We had asked the NCAA if this was permissible and were told it is not.

@ZipsMBB will appear on our shooting shirts, and we have planned plenty of other social media activities and promotions: http://bit.ly/1124SCv

As part of our promotional efforts, we distributed photographs of a prototype jersey with our handle to select national media members, who also received their own jerseys personalized with their Twitter handle.

We're proud to promote our @ZipsMBB team that has won 11 straight games and is 6-0 in the @MAC-Sports. #ThinkBigger #ZipsGameday #GoZips

Another victory for the Zips.

Akron
The Twitter handle on the back of the Akron jersey (@ZipsMBB) is the issue.
You want to generate even more buzz about the idea? Well, release a statement with a bunch of Twitter references that conveys the true genius behind the vision.

Akron. For the win. Again.

This is another unfortunate example of the NCAA playing mall cop.

Last week, the governing body told Iowa that it couldn’t wear a jersey that would have honored Chris Street, a former player who died in a car crash.

Akron’s ambitions are not equal to Iowa’s. But the schools presented similar arguments.

The NCAA’s nonsensical inflexibility only fuels disdain. Do the folks in Indianapolis understand that?

I mean, Akron can’t have a little fun and capitalize on the growth of social media in a nationally televised game?

The good news is that Akron still wins.

See, the Zips will put the program’s Twitter handle on the back of its shooting shirts. And the program might distribute/sell replicas to fans due to the buzz.

“It did exactly what we wanted it to do,” Moyer said about the original idea.

Moyer admitted that the program thought about moving forward with the “banned” jerseys and accepting the technical foul that officials would assess in that scenario.

“There was that discussion,” Moyer said. “But the last time we played Ohio, we lost by one.”

So let’s recap here:
  1. Akron moves forward with a cool idea to put Twitter handles on the back of its jerseys.
  2. NCAA says “maybe” so the Zips show off the jersey, assuming that the NCAA will ultimately approve it.
  3. NCAA pulls the plug on the fun because that’s what it does.
  4. Akron puts out a statement about the NCAA denying its request, while generating even more hype for the concept.
  5. We’re talking about a game between Akron and Ohio that most folks wouldn’t discuss if Akron hadn't masterminded this idea.

Marketing 101.

Zips? You win.