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An interesting issue from the complex realm of intellectual property

Any sports fan who actively follows college competition knows just how huge a spectacle that can be at the so-called “D-1” level. Major top-tier programs across the country (one might quickly think of the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins for a local perspective) literally ooze money, with that being instantly apparent from their swollen game attendance numbers, product sales and other garnered revenues.

What generates those dollars?

Lots of factors contribute, of course, but central to the money-making mill is the hyped celebrity status commanded by some of the participants. Many of America’s premier university athletes can seem closely akin to movie stars. Their schools are duly aware of that, and make every effort to exploit their names and images.

The universities make a huge profit from that. Conversely, the athletes themselves do not.

In fact, it is a historical mandate of the NCAA (college sports’ overseeing body) that athletes retain amateur status, meaning that they don’t receive any compensation for their involvement in college sports programs. Scores of athletes who have taken money and/or other perks have been severely punished over the years.

That outcome is becoming increasingly viewed as irrational and unfair. In other contexts, such exploitation without compensation would be deemed a clear violation of protected intellectual property right.

Given the changing climate, will the NCAA implement changes?

It seems likely, especially given the stark criticisms forthcoming from many quarters. One especially prominent voice is that of current NCAA Commission Chair Condoleezza Rice, who points to a base unfairness resulting from the unpaid exploitation of athletes whose ties with schools generate huge revenues for those institutions.

Rice says she is waiting for a bit of firmer guidance to issue from the judicial system before moving ahead with a reformist initiative.

Ultimately, she notes, “athletes are going to have to be able to benefit.” She adds that, “It’s really time to come to terms with name, image and likeness.”

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