By Donald R. Winslow
AUSTIN, TX - Officials from the National Collegiate Athletic Association will meet next Friday at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to discuss whether SportsShooter.com member photographers are endangering NCAA student athletes' eligibility, or violating any NCAA regulations, by publishing the athletes' pictures in Web site portfolios. Initially planned for Tuesday, the meeting now won't take place until Friday so that members of the NCAA's public relations and communications staff can also take part in the discussion, News Photographer learned today.
The NCAA meeting comes after several SportsShooter.com members received cease-and-desist letters this week from a handful of university eligibility and compliance administrators in athletic departments at NCAA member schools. The letters asked the photographers to remove images of student athletes from their Web site portfolios.
In question is whether SportsShooter.com Web site portfolios that contain pictures of NCAA athletes do, or do not, put a student athlete's NCAA amateur eligibility at risk, and if the NCAA has the authority to tell photographers that they cannot publish game photographs in an online portfolio. NCAA regulations prohibit the use of pictures of college amateur athletes for "promotional" or "commercial" purposes but not as "editorial" content, so long as the image is not being used to promote a business, service, or commercial venture.
While sports photojournalist Rich Clarkson believes the NCAA has a clear understanding, at the top of their leadership, of the editorial use of pictures online and hopes to be able clarify that use for the college compliance officials who are faced with protecting their student athletes' eligibility, Grover Sanschagrin - the executive producer and administrator of the popular Web site Sportsshooter.com - isn't so sure. "This issue isn't just about SportsShooter.com," he told News Photographer. "The excuse being used against SportsShooter.com members can (and probably will) be used against photographers and their own personal Web sites and portfolios."
Sanschagrin said that he is aware of "multiple eMails from various universities asking us to remove all pictures of all student athletes from SportsShooter.com. I also know that our members are getting eMails from them as well, and there is a lot of confusion regarding the legitimate use of images in an online portfolio."
He said that one such eMail to SportsShooter.com was from Phillip J. Wille, who identifies himself as an "eligibility and compliance specialist" for the University of Wyoming. Wille wrote, "We have contacted each individual photographer who has used our student-athletes and asked them to remove those photographs. To let you know, we have contacted the NCAA on your site SPECIFICALLY, and have been told that it IS a violation of 18.104.22.168 for our athletes to be pictured on your site because it promotes your business."
In response to Wille's assertion, Sanschagrin said he replied to him that SportsShooter.com does not use images at all, but that their members display images on their individual (Web) home pages; that no images are for sale on SportsShooter.com and no products using any images of athletes are for sale anywhere on SportsShooter.com; that SportsShooter.com is a community of professional (and student) photographers who are sharing images in an attempt to learn and grow; and, "Since no images are for sale, and no images are being used on any product of any kind, and no images are being used to promote any products of any kind, I do not see how images on SportsShooter.com are a violation of this bylaw."
Wille's note to Sanschagrin on January 20, 2006, seems to be a direct contradiction to what the NCAA said back in November when they determined that the use of Syracuse University student athletes' images in SportsShooter.com Web site portfolios constituted "editorial" use, and that photographers' pictures from games that were displayed in member portfolios were not "commercial" and were not "promotional" and therefore did not threaten a player's amateur eligibility.
The NCAA's determination in that instance was the result of Susan Edson, Syracuse University's athletic communication director, threatening to revoke photography credentials issued to the school's newspaper, The Daily Orange, and to a local newspaper if staff photographers didn't remove images from their SportsShooter.com Web portfolios of Syracuse football players. The pictures were game action photos from a recent Syracuse home football game.
Edson’s concerns were based in NCAA rule 22.214.171.124 stating that to retain a student athlete’s eligibility, the player or his or her institution must take steps to stop the publication of the athlete’s name or picture “on commercial items (e.g., shirts, sweatshirts, serving trays, playing cards, posters or is used to promote a commercial product sold by an individual or agency without the student-athlete's knowledge or permission.) … Such steps are not required in cases in which a student-athlete's photograph is sold by an individual or agency (e.g., private photographer, news agency) for private use."
Edson met with photographers, Syracuse professors, and a representative from the National Press Photographers Association to discuss the matter and the NCAA was asked for an interpretation. After the NCAA decided that SportsShooter.com is an editorial site, Edson told News Photographer, "We’re all happy that we were able to come to a conclusion that worked for everybody."
Apparently the matter has come to a boil again as the result of recent eMails and discussion board postings among NCAA schools' compliance officers about SportsShooter.com. The compliance officials may be unaware that in the November situation with Syracuse the NCAA's subsequent decision was that the Web site is an "editorial" use of photographs. College compliance officials appear to be free to act on their own and send out letters like the cease-and-desist communiques without consulting the NCAA, but they can also consult NCAA officials if they want to seek the association's interpretation on a situation.
"I've talked with various people within the NCAA staff for several years about such issues and there's a collision of realistic use of pictures with the (NCAA) membership's concerns to keep commercialism away from student athletes until their eligibility is complete," Rich Clarkson told News Photographer. Clarkson, a former NPPA president who is a contract photographer for Sports Illustrated and the former director of photography for National Geographic magazine, is the president of Rich Clarkson & Associates in Denver. He is the creator of NCAA Photos, a full service assignment and stock agency that does all photography for the NCAA's 93 national championship games. Clarkson also occasionally serves as an advisor on photography issues as they affect the college sports scene.
"It is probably not so much misunderstandings as it is a lack of understanding, and the problem comes when the compliance officers at member schools, conscientiously trying to protect their athletes from NCAA rules violations, have often overreacted," Clarkson said. "The problem really is inherent in how those rules are passed in convention by the member schools - and then have to be implemented by the NCAA staff. Over the years there have been rules passed to correct one situation which then create a different problem. The results are inadvertent."
Clarkson believes that NCAA leaders already understand the nature of SportsShooter.com and believe that it is essentially an educational Internet meeting place for professional photojournalists who are helping each other. About the upcoming Indianapolis meeting, Clarkson says, "The NCAA will meet to review all this and hopefully will be able to pass along (to member schools) an interpretation that makes sense for everyone, to the compliance officials at the various schools as well as to the media."