College Coaches Cashing In, Players Fighting In Court - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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College Coaches Cashing In, Players Fighting In Court

College Coaches Cashing In, Players Fighting In Court

In an interesting trend across the college sports landscape, the trademarking and licensing of coaches’ names and likenesses has become increasingly popular for NCAA schools. You may ask how does that differ from the NCAA profiting off of student athletes? Unlike their players, who are fighting in court to get some compensation, coaches are cashing in.

The USA Today recently posted a story that Ohio State is in the process of trademarking their coach Urban Meyer’s name as well as slogans or catchphrases using his name. Additionally, coaches at Clemson, Kansas State and University of Washington have licensing agreements with their respective schools to use their likenesses and names with the approval of the coach. If the coach doesn’t like it, it won’t be put on a t-shirt. The power all lies with the coaches.

To put that in perspective, if any of these coaches’ players don’t like how their schools use their image what recourse do they have? Sure they can request the school to change it or take it down, but it is up to the school to decide.

While the debate over the intellectual property rights of student athletes is being dealt with in court, the perceived value that college coaches provide their schools in contrast with the value the players give their school could shine a light at the huge discrepancy between the compensation given to coaches and the lack there of given to players. The length of a college athlete’s career is finite, lasting only as long as he is in school. True, during those three or four years the athlete may be extremely marketable and profitable for the school (i.e. Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel), but there are 10,000 athletes on scholarship in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision and it would be near impossible to say that all of them have market value. However, coaches, especially successful coaches, spend many years on the sidelines of their schools’ fields, making it easier for schools to profit off them. Coaches are just taking the next step in protecting their value and ensuring they get a piece of the pie.

Another difference between college athletes and their coaches is that the athletes must release his or her rights just to receive their scholarship. The recent lawsuit brought by former and current college athletes, concerning the lack of compensation for NCAA use of athlete names and likenesses, has brought to the forefront the release form players are required to sign to allow the use of their names and likenesses to promote NCAA games and events. It can be said that the athletes are receiving just compensation in the form of an education and other school services, which can have a yearly value of close to $100,000. That is aside from the value gained from media exposure and playing on ESPN. While there is truth in the argument that athletes gain value from the school the same can be said for coaches. The only reason coaches are becoming increasingly more recognizable is because their schools play on ESPN and the exposure of their coaches allows them to sell more apparel with slogans and pictures of the coaches. Same value gained by coach and player alike, but one can protect his rights and capitalize on the value while the other is stuck having his rights exploited.

Can anyone blame the coaches for getting in on the cash cow that is NCAA football and protecting their value? NO! The only issue is the student athletes are getting kicked to the curb and neglected while the coaches and universities are sitting pretty.

Julian Leiner

Julian Leiner is a second year Fordham Law student and IPLJ Staff Member. His interest in IP Law comes from his love of sports and media. In his spare time he reading, watching hockey, and spending time with his wife and daughter.