NCAA Tells Sportsshooter.com It Does Not Violate Restrictions

Mar 17, 2006

“The NCAA issue has (sort of) been resolved,” Grover Sanschagrin, executive producer of SportsShooter.com, wrote to News Photographer this morning. “I think this is good news.”

In a statement posted hours ago on the Sportsshooter.com Web site, the San Francisco-based group announced that “Images of student athletes currently posted on SportsShooter.com do not violate National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) restrictions, a NCAA representative has confirmed.”

“Since the images are not being used to promote commercial purposes, they do not fall foul of association regulations, NCAA membership services director Wendy A. Walters indicated in a letter received Friday.”

In November 2005 the NCAA had determined that use of student athlete images within portfolios posted on the Web site constituted editorial use, and therefore did not threaten a player’s NCAA amateur eligibility status, after the athletic communications director at Syracuse University had raised the question when student photojournalists and other professionals posted portfolio photographs from recent Syracuse football games on Sportsshooter. Syracuse athletic communications director Susan Edson had threatened to revoke press credentials for the two photographers if they did not take the images down.

At a meeting in Syracuse between Edson, Syracuse journalism professors, photojournalism students, and a representative from the NPPA, the situation was resolved when photographers agreed to have a digital watermark on their posted images stating their name and affiliation to prove that they were accredited members of the media. The Syracuse situation came to a head, apparently, after a freelancer denied credentials to Syracuse sporting events complained about the Web site. After the Syracuse meeting, Sportsshooter producers also agreed to clarified language in its Web site "Terms & Conditions" for members to indicated that the site does not claim the right to use member-posted images in any way other than on the site itself.

In January 2006, NCAA officials scheduled a meeting at their headquarters in Indianapolis, IN, to discuss whether SportsShooter member photographers were endangering NCAA student athletes' eligibility, or violating any NCAA regulations, by publishing the athletes' pictures in Web site portfolios. The meeting came after several SportsShooter members received cease-and-desist letters from a handful of university eligibility and compliance administrators in athletic departments at NCAA member schools. The letters told the photographers to remove images of student athletes from their Web site portfolios.

“The NCAA's letter could come as good news for a number of SportsShooter.com members who have received cease-and-desist letters from college compliance officers over their posting of images of student athletes,” Sportsshooter's statement today said.

Under general NCAA legislation the name or likeness of student athletes cannot be used to promote a commercial product or service and students who violate this rule risk losing eligibility to participate in intercollegiate athletics.

When NCAA officials met in February to discuss the Sportsshooter Web site and the bylaw restricting the use of student athlete images, today’s statement says, they took issue with a line of text present on all member pages that says: "Currently Accepting Freelance: Yes," believing that this promotes commercial interests.

SportsShooter says they responded by removing the line of text to “underscore their intention of running a purely editorial site.” Sportsshooter then received a letter from Walters last week that said, "It appears that SportsShooter.com is no longer being used by members to advertise their availability of freelance work. Given this, it would no longer violate NCAA legislation to have a photograph of a student-athlete appear on a member's Web page.”

“A lot has changed since 1997, and we're more than willing to help the NCAA re-examine this particular bylaw,” Sanschagrin said in a release posted on the Sportsshooter Web site. “The NCAA is a busy organization. I'm grateful that they took the time to tour our site and review our situation, and that we were able to resolve this issue on behalf of our members.”

Whether the disagreement is truly over remains to be seen, as the NCAA’s Walters pointed out in her letter to Sportsshooter that “some NCAA institutions and conferences employ rules that are more stringent than NCAA legislation and could preclude such postings.” In other words, some conference compliance officers – the people who have been sending cease-and-desist letters to Sportsshooter photographers – may still believe their individual conference rules supercede the NCAA’s new determination.

Read an earlier story about copyright law and credentials.