Only on the Palouse can the craze over the facial hair of a Heisman trophy-candidate quarterback lead to a cease-and-desist letter and nearly lead to an NCAA rules violation.
Earlier this month, the Colfax Chamber of Commerce had organized “Gardner Minshew Days” to honor the Washington State graduate transfer, and one-year phenom, who has led the No. 7 Cougars to a 10-1 regular season and a chance to advance to the Pac-12 Championship game for the first time.
The event was organized to give out fake mustaches this week to fans to honor Minshew, a senior transfer from East Carolina, as WSU prepares to play No. 16 Washington on Friday in one of the highest-profile meetings ever for the Apple Cup. The winner earns annual bragging rights for the Evergreen State.
But some 15 minutes after Colfax Chamber Executive Director Valoree Gregory posted the event to Facebook, she received a cease-and-desist letter from WSU because of an NCAA bylaw that prohibits anyone from profiting from Minshew’s likeness.
“We had no idea that it was anything like that,” Gregory said. “I was a fundraiser at WSU for 15 years. I should have known better.”
According to Bill Stevens, WSU associate athletic director for communications, the letter sent to the Colfax chamber read: “In accordance with NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168, Washington State University requests you cease the production and display of advertisements, and the possible distribution of any products using Gardner Minshew’s name and likeness.”
“They were trying to have fun with it,” Stevens said. “They just didn’t know the rules.”
Gregory immediately changed the name of the event to “Mustache Madness Days.”
“We just have it posted in honor of our favorite WSU quarterback, so it can be anybody,” said Gregory, who grew up in nearby Steptoe and is a lifelong WSU fan. Minshew “has really turned around the Cougs. It’s been great for us.”
Stevens said he checked with the compliance office and the brief naming of Minshew for the event did not run afoul with the NCAA regulations, which could have threatened the quarterback’s eligibility for the rest of the season.
“So what we need to do is investigate. Did you know about it? Did you give them permission to use your name? But Gardner didn’t know about it,” Stevens said. “They complied with our request” to change the name “so it doesn’t even get to the NCAA because it was stopped.”
A similar situation arose in 2017 in Spokane when D. Lish’s Hamburgers named a seven-patty burger “the Karnowski” in honor of the 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski. After a similar call by Gonzaga University compliance officials, the restaurant renamed it the “Zag burger.”
As part of Colfax’s Minshew event, Gregory said the chamber purchased 4,000 fake mustaches and passed them out to Colfax businesses. Any WSU fans that stop at the city’s grocery stores, coffee shops or banks can pick up a mustache for free before Friday’s 5:30 p.m. kickoff.
“We have a big reader board that shows how fast you are driving. Right next to that is a huge mustache,” said Gregory, a WSU graduate. “I’ve never seen everybody jump on board like this, especially for one player.”
Stevens, as well, said he can’t remember any other similar promotions for any football player in the 14 years he’s worked in Pullman.
“I do not remember a situation or incident or theme where something like this has taken off the way it has,” Stevens said. “It’s pretty cool.”
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