Why the NCAA sues over the use of ‘March Madness’

By Ross Crowell, Law Library Sports Law Correspondent

As the men’s NCAA Tournament just wrapped up with Kansas taking down North Carolina in the National Championship, one interesting legal issue that often arises around the tournament is the NCAA’s trademark on the term “March Madness”.

Image by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 

The NCAA has “aggressively protected” its trademarked marketing programs, including “March Madness”. The first time the phrase was first used as a reference to the NCAA Tournament was in 1982 by announcer Brent Musberger. The NCAA attempted to trademark the term in the 1990s, but the term was already trademarked by the Illinois High School Association, which previously purchased the term’s trademark rights from a Chicago television company. 

The Illinois High School Association ended up suing an NCAA licensee to enjoin it from the use of the term. However, the NCAA won, as the Seventh Circuit found that “March Madness” had become a dual-use term, as it could reference both the Illinois High School Association and NCAA basketball tournaments. While both associations used the term for a period of time, the NCAA ended up buying out the Illinois High School Association’s ownership of the trademark. 

Along with “March Madness”, there are several other basketball tournament terms that the NCAA has trademark protection over, such as “Elite Eight”, “Final Four”, “68 Teams, One Dream”, “March Mayhem”, “March to the Madness”, “Road to the Final Four”, “Selection Sunday”, “The Big Dance”, and even “Read to the Final Four”, among many other terms. Thus, the use of the term “March Madness” or any of these other NCAA trademarked terms requires NCAA approval. 

As the NCAA has trademark rights to this term, that means the term cannot be used as a catchphrase by anyone else, even in an unrelated industry. For example, a local country club could not promote a golf tournament under the name “March Madness”, despite the event being completely unrelated to the NCAA basketball tournament. 

While it is impossible for the NCAA to find every commercial use of the term in violation of its trademark protection, the NCAA often sends cease-and-desist letters to owners of bars, restaurants, and other companies that are using the trademark without a license.

The NCAA strictly enforces potential trademark infringements in order to maintain the rights to their trademarks. If the NCAA does not enforce protection of their trademarked terms, they could lose the rights to their protected use of the terms. For example, the terms “thermos”, “yo-yo”, “laundromat”, and “hacky sack” were once trademarked, but became revoked once the terms became generic due to not being protected by the terms’ owners. 

Thus, while the NCAA may appear aggressive for vigorously protecting the use of “March Madness” and other trademarked terms, they police the use of the term in order to maintain their trademark privileges. The NCAA likely does not want “March Madness” to become a generic term, so it must enforce the use of the term, even if the use by other parties does not impact the NCAA’s business interests. 

NFL Broadcast Rights on the Move

By Ross Crowell, Law Library GRA Sports Law Correspondent

Watching primetime NFL games on television will probably look a bit different during the 2022 season. Fox, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and Amazon are all trying to figure out who they will have announcing their games during this upcoming football season. These multi-million dollar broadcasting contracts are legally complex, implicating different areas such as Contract Law, Employment Law, Media Law. There are also potential Antitrust Law implications, since the NFL and its television broadcasters are regulated by the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, which grants a limited exemption to the Sherman Act permitting the various teams to enter into joint broadcasting agreements despite their anticompetitive effects.

NFL Broadcast Rights on the Move

The biggest shift relates to increased importance of streaming rights. Amazon has shaken things up being a new player in this business, as they now have the exclusive rights to stream 15 Thursday Night Football games for the 2022 season on Amazon Prime.

The networks’ broadcast booths will be playing musical chairs, as many of the biggest names will be on the move. Some top broadcasters that are potentially leaving networks are Troy Aikman (Fox), Al Michaels (NBC), Louis Riddick (ESPN), and Brian Griese (ESPN). Riddick is being considered for NFL general manager positions and Griese, whose contract expired after the 2021 season, will reportedly become the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach. Aikman, who reportedly will become the new color analyst for Monday Night Football at ESPN, has broadcasted for Fox for 20 years, spending 19 of those with broadcast partner Joe Buck. Aikman’s reported deal will be for five years and close to $18 million annually. 

In addition to current broadcasters, some big-name former players are also in consideration for these roles. Recently retired 7-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady reportedly will be contacted by Amazon and Fox to gauge his interest in broadcasting. Drew Brees, who led the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl, was on television last season for NBC and could be poached by one of the competing networks. 

However, Brees only has one year of experience on television and Brady has not broadcasted any games, as he retired just over a month ago. As these contracts for broadcasters rival what the top players in the NFL are paid, it is a bit of a risk to hire someone with inexperience. However, the names of Brees and Brady likely will draw in many fans that would want to tune in to their broadcasts. The networks will have to carefully weigh these various considerations when negotiating these complex employment contracts.

College Athletes Can Profit from their Names, Images, and Likenesses. Now What?

By Ross Crowell, Law Library GRA Sports Law Correspondent

Prior to 2021, college athletes were strictly seen as unpaid athletes. That has changed over the past several months, as now college athletes are able to make money off of their name, image and likeness (“NIL”). While the schools are still not allowed to directly pay their student athletes, the student athletes can now make money from things like advertisements and social media. However, the confusing legal environment surrounding NIL means that colleges and athletes are unsure of what they can and cannot do.

The history behind the change involves federalism, activism, and antitrust law. First, Florida passed a state law in June 2020 that legalized college athletes to capitalize off of their name, image and likeness, with the law going into effect on July, 1, 2021. Several other states followed Florida. These state laws, along with activism by the college athletes , a Supreme Court opinion holding NCAA limits on education-related benefits to be invalid under federal antitrust law, and other events, led to the NCAA adopting a temporary rule change on June 30, 2021, allowing college athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness.

The NCAA abruptly enacting this temporary rule change has created mass confusion among its member schools, as there is currently not much clarity on what is and what is not allowed. Additionally, different states having very different NIL laws has put some schools at a disadvantage. For example, Alabama and Florida, among other states, have stricter NIL laws than other states. Thus, college athletes in those jurisdictions cannot take advantage of the NIL to the same degree as athletes in states that do not have any NIL law at all (such as Kentucky and Virginia). 

Sports balls on a background comprised of $100 bills.


With players signing lucrative NIL contracts to appear in national advertisements for established brands, stakeholders are seeking clarity and uniformity. From the perspective of colleges, restrictive state NIL laws could be a disadvantage in recruiting, or even prompt top athletes to transfer to schools where they can fully take advantage of NIL. This resulted in the Alabama House voting in favor of repealing its prior law. Other states likely will follow, as the state legislatures will want their universities on a level playing field with schools in other states. 

The best solution to this issue may be to enact a new federal law to restore uniformity by preempting the current state NIL laws. Instead of 50 different state laws dictating how their college athletes can profit from their NILs, there would be a single rule that all universities and teams have to play by. 

The NCAA seems to feel the same way. When the NCAA announced the legality of NIL on June 30, 2021, Division I Board of Directors chair Denise Trauth said, “with this interim solution in place, we will continue to work with Congress to adopt federal legislation to support student-athletes.” Congress held a hearing on October 1, 2021, where NCAA president Mark Emmert called on Congress to act, claiming that the NCAA has an urgent need for NIL federal framework.

So far, there has not been any federal or NCAA action taken. This will be an interesting issue to follow, as many college sports pundits claim that NIL has turned college athletics into the “wild wild west” without an overarching law. 

The MLB Lockout: A Look at the Issues

By Ross Crowell, GSU Law Library Sports Law Correspondent

Here in Atlanta, many baseball fans should be looking forward to the upcoming baseball season, as the Braves are fresh off of a World Series victory. The Braves should start off the 2022 season in under two months, as their first game is scheduled at the Miami Marlins on March 31. However, the Braves and the rest of Major League Baseball (“MLB”) likely will not be playing games as scheduled. It appears to be an all-but certainty that the 2022 season will not start on time due to the MLB lockout. And ultimately it might be beneficial to remember that the lockout grew out of something everyone who’s taken 1L Contracts is at least passingly familiar with: protracted negotiations over an extremely complex contract.

The MLB Lockout: A Look at the Issues

We are now over two months into the lockout, which has been caused by the owners and players failing to reach a new collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). Further, it appears that the two sides have not made much progress in reaching an agreement. The lockout began on December 2, when the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners could not reach an agreement, resulting in the MLB’s first work stoppage since 1994. 

The players and owners are mainly arguing over financial issues, with players upset that they aren’t paid the high salaries they think they deserve. The players also want to change a long-time rule that forces players to wait six years to reach free agency. As players’ first contracts are usually not for substantial money unless they were a high draft pick, this rule forces players to wait a significant amount of time before they can cash in on a big second contract (potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars in some cases). 

Further, the players and owners are struggling to reach an agreement on the pre-arbitration bonus pool. The players recently lowered their proposed pre-arbitration bonus pool from $105 million to $100 million, while the owners are sitting at a proposed $10 million. Thus, there is a significant gap in those negotiations. 

Additional issues that the two sides are arguing over are disincentivizing tanking (i.e., stop rewarding teams who intentionally perform poorly), increasing the competitive balance tax threshold, and ending service-time manipulation. The service-time manipulation is an interesting issue that notably occurred with Atlanta’s All Star outfielder Ronald Acuña. With Acuña, the Braves knew that he was ready to be a big contributor during 2018. However, Atlanta waited until three weeks into the season to call Acuña up from the minor leagues, as this would allow the Braves to get an extra year out of Acuña’s contract before hitting free agency. Thus, the players are hoping the new CBA will put an end to this practice. 

Moreover, these negotiations involve several attorneys. Notably, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was a labor and employment partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP prior to his career with the MLB. While Manfred was with Morgan Lewis, he negotiated on behalf of the owners during the 1994-1995 MLB lockout, along with negotiating the league’s first drug-testing program in 2022. Dan Halem, who is the league’s Deputy Commissioner, previously served as a partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, working in labor and employment law, along with sports law. Additionally, Bruce Meyer, the MLB Players Association Senior Director of Collective Bargaining and Legal, is a partner at Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP. Meyer also has experience working on behalf of the NHL, NFL, and NBA during arbitrations, lawsuits, and CBA negotiations. 

These are just a handful of things that are being heavily disputed between the players and owners. With spring training tentatively beginning on February 16, it appears highly unlikely that things will get started on time, likely resulting in the regular season getting pushed back. If you are planning on going to the Braves’ home opener on April 7 against the Mets, now might be the time to start coming to the realization that the game may not occur.  

So, when you’re trying to connect tricky concepts around negotiations, contracts, and labor law to the real world, it might actually be beneficial to think of all of those baseball games that will never be played.

Legal Consequences of Oklahoma and Texas Joining the SEC

As we gear up for an SEC-dominated national championship, Law Library Sports Law Correspondent Ross Crowell’s got you covered with this post on the possible legal consequences of new additions to the conference.

On July 29, the Southeastern Conference (“SEC”) unanimously voted to add the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas, effective July 1, 2025. Oklahoma and Texas, who have been members of the Big 12 Conference (“Big 12”) since the conference’s inception in 1994, potentially could join the SEC even sooner than 2025, as they could be playing in the SEC as early as 2022, as reported by Matt Hayes. 


While this move has some Longhorn and Sooner fans thrilled about the new competition, there are a few legal hurdles the universities face. 


First, the Big 12 said that it expected Texas and Oklahoma to adhere to its bylaws and television contracts that the schools signed, and if the schools failed to do so, each school would owe the Big 12 over $76 million.  Additionally, the Big 12 bylaws provide that a departing member must give the Big 12 at least 18 months’ notice that they are leaving the conference, and also must pay the Big 12 a “commitment buyout fee”, equal to the amount of distributions the schools would have received during the last two years of its membership. The bylaws additionally provide that Texas and Oklahoma would have to give up all distributions the school would have received during the interim period between the schools’ notice and departure. The consequences of the Big 12 bylaws result in Texas and Oklahoma missing out on tens of millions of dollars. 


Further, following the schools’ announcement of departure, the Big 12 sent ESPN a cease and desist letter, demanding that the sports network stop communicating with Big 12 members and other conferences over matters regarding Big 12 schools. Big 12 commissioner claimed that ESPN “actively engaged in discussions with at least one other conference regarding that conference inducing additional members of the Big 12 Conference to leave the Big 12 conference.”
These are just a few of potential legal issues the schools (and ESPN) are facing due to the move. While both Texas and Oklahoma’s football teams alone bring in over a combined $200 million a year in revenue, with that number likely increasing when they join the SEC, the programs will likely have to pay tens of millions of dollars back to the Big 12 due to this move.

As you can see, SEC football is not so different from a Contracts exam. Leave a comment if you spot any additional issues with the teams switching conferences!