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July 31, 2008 - Knight Commission calls on NCAA to protect athletes from commercial exploitation by fantasy leagues

In articles published July 31 in USA Today and the Chronicle of Higher Education, Knight Commission Executive Director Amy Perko called on the NCAA to take action to protect college athletes from being exploited by a fantasy league using their names without permission and for commercial purposes.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Perko “believes the NCAA should do more to stop the college fantasy game.” “The NCAA exists to protect the integrity of its rules and to protect student-athletes from being exploited,” Ms. Perko told the Chronicle.  “It (the NCAA) has a responsibility to make sure that its rules are followed for the benefit of the individual athletes.” An article published August 4 in USA Today discusses the position of individual schools and athletes considering their options to prevent CBS from continuing with its fantasy game.

Perko’s comments relate to news from the NCAA that it will work with CBS Sports to protect the amateur status of college athletes after CBS Sports’ decision to base its college football fantasy game on actual Division I Football Bowl Subdivision athletes.  CBS Sports announced on July 28 that it would offer participants playing its online College Football Fantasy Game the opportunity to draft real student-athletes as opposed to position players (for example, Michigan State QBs, Boston College RBs) that do not disclose student-athlete names.  Participants in the fantasy league will not be charged an entry fee or be eligible for any prize associated with the game.  And, according to the Wall Street Journal, CBS is planning to implement this for college basketball later this year.

The Wall Street Journal article noted that CBS decided to include the names of student-athletes in its fantasy game after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 2. The court refused to hear a case brought by Major League Baseball Advanced Media against CDM Fantasy Sports Corp.; the decision was interpreted to mean an entity does not own the rights to statistics and names that are in the public domain. That allowed for other fantasy companies to use real names and statistics without fearing retribution by major sports entities like Major League Baseball or the National Football League.

According to the NCAA, earlier this month it issued an official interpretation stating that any student-athletes whose names are used in conjunction with a fantasy sports game would be required to take action to stop the third party in order to remain eligible. However, the NCAA has sent notice to CBS Sports that its league could jeopardize student-athlete eligibility.  Institutions and individual student-athletes may still contact CBS Sports or any third party if they believe their amateurism has been jeopardized.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams reportedly informed the Wall Street Journal that because of the added exposure fantasy sports can bring the student-athlete, the NCAA does not intend to stand in the way of the fantasy game for now. “We are concerned with protecting the amateur status of the student athlete,” Mr. Williams told the paper, but he also believes that the bylaws, which were enacted “before new media,” do not properly address a situation like this. Still, he warns that NCAA lawyers will be watching closely.