CBS Sports Will Use Player Names in College Fantasy Football; NCAA Offers Mild Protest, Contradictions

The fantasy phenomenon has created an entirely new stream of commerce for professional sports leagues and franchises.  That stream is now poised to spill over to collegiate sports. 

CBSSports.com has announced that it will become the first provider of fantasy college football to use the names and statistics of actual players, rather than the generic terms previously associated with such games.  A fantasy college basketball game is also planned.

The NCAA believes that its rules against profiting on the likeness of a collegiate athlete may be violated by the type of games planned by CBS, although it does not plan any immediate action.  Is this a reflection of the NCAA adjusting to new technology and new law, or rather the latest example that amateurism is dead and collegiate athletics is purely a business?

CBS argues that Major League Baseball Advanced Media v. CDM Fantasy Sports Corp., a recent case in the Federal Court of Appeals, gives it the right to use player names and statistics.  In that case, the Court held that an entity does not own the rights to statistics and names that are in the public domain.  The decision was appealled to the U.S. Supreme Court, however the High Court declined to hear the case.  Thus, the ruling was effectively upheld and fantasy providers were presented with an opportunity to tap an enormous market.

Although this case cleared the way to use names and statistics, it did not remove any opposition from the NCAA.  NCAA bylaws “prohibit companies from trading on the likeness or image of specific athletes.”  Accordingly, the NCAA sent CBS a letter stating that its bylaws were being violated.  However, the NCAA has been unclear, if not contradictory, as to its position, citing on one hand a desire not to disturb a player’s opportunities arising from such exposure, but on the other hand protecting the amateur status of the athletes.  (For examples of the NCAA’s contradictory statements, see Rick Karcher’s post on Sports Law Blog, dated July 30, 2008). Of note, is the NCAA’s $6 billion contract with CBS for the broadcast rights to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The NCAA has stated that it needs to revisit its guidelines in light of these developments in the law and fantasy sports.  Given time, the NCAA may fight the use of player names in fantasy sports games and even resort to litigation.  However, the NCAA has not exactly been an outspoken opponent of profiting from the performances of student athletes.

Comments

  1. Great post! Thanks…

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