My Dear Lacrosse Companies, college athletes can’t be in ads. They just can’t be. You can’t use their names, or their photos, or even their likeness. None of it. It’s been said before and it will be said again, but any company promoting a product or service, and using a college athlete’s name, photo, or likeness to do so, is risking that players’ NCAA eligibility. This is true even if the player has no idea that their name, photo, or likeness is being used. Why do I keep making this point? Because some companies simply refuse to follow the rules.
Now, to be fair, not every company out there breaks this NCAA eligibility rule, and the vast majority of the “major players” follow a very strict set of rules for making sure that they don’t impact any current college players’ eligibility.
I asked Epoch’s James Miceli to share his company’s approach to this issue and he laid out the following: “Epoch has supplied several major college programs with our products, however we are very aware of the potential NCAA violations, and we simply refuse to walk that line and use it in our marketing – especially on social media.”
I find that refreshing, and a lot of other established brands follow similar logic, but there are some companies out there who think they are just “skirting the rules”, while others are breaking them completely.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, keep reading, and I’ll try to fill you in. It’s important because every NCAA athlete is at risk here. While I feel like I’m taking crazy pills having to write this again, for the sake of our current college athletes, I’m going to do it.
College Athletes Can’t Be In Ads
When I was a freshman playing D3 lacrosse, our SID brought the team in and gave us the eligibility talk. We had to take X number of classes, and had to pass Y number of classes. Our clock started this year, and we had five years to use 4 years of eligibility for lacrosse… the list went on and on, but one that stuck with me eternally was the fact that we couldn’t appear in ads… of ANY KIND.
I was shocked at how onerous the rules were, and how drastic the penalties could be. For example, if a company snapped a photo of me running over the Summer, and used it an ad to sell car insurance, even if I was in the background, I could lose my eligibility. I didn’t have to be paid, in fact, I didn’t even have to be aware that the ad existed, and I had to show that I had made every effort to have it taken down! If someone else had seen it, and reported me, I could have lost my eligibility.
While this was a drastic case, and exceedingly unlikely to befall a D3 lacrosse player, it still all seemed totally insane, showed how extreme the written rule could be, which brings us to today’s lacrosse marketing. What I see now absolutely shocks me, assuming this rule hasn’t changed drastically!
It is not uncommon to see some of the more aggressively marketed products out there tied directly to college athletes. From skill position training to mesh to club teams to on field equipment and beyond, this epidemic has reach. What’s so dangerous about it is how grey the line can be, and how quickly the distinction between right and wrong can be lost.
It’s not like I’m just some old man sitting on his couch complaining about this (I mean, I am…), because as recently as last week a company was called and told to take down a photo that a certain school felt had broken this rule… so it’s a REAL thing… STILL! The “who” here is not important, but trust me, it’s still happening.
If you want some rough guidelines from me on what breaks the rules and what doesn’t, see below!
– Are you a company whose primary goal is to sell a product or service? Don’t post photos of college athletes where you even mention your product. This goes for club teams, camps, hard good and soft good manufacturers and retail outlets… AKA pretty much everyone. “Proud to supply/sponsor/be the official…” Stop it. If there is a photo OR a name OR a likeness in there, there is a violation. Cartoon drawing of current player? Violation. I know it’s insane. I don’t make the rules, I just tell you about them.
– Does this apply to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc? Well, have you ever promoted your product through your company page on any of those social media platforms? If you said yes to the second question, the answer to the first question is also YES.
– Social media is a marketing tool for companies first and foremost. Social media falls under a marketing division or promotion, so posting a photo of a college athlete is therefore part of marketing efforts. That breaks the rule. You can argue if you like, but in the eyes of the NCAA (forget about me), you’re probably going to be wrong.
– Now… how bad would it be if your company were the one to cause an NCAA player to lose their eligibility? What if your post was the one to kill a kid’s career? Can you imagine how bad that would be for business?
– Why can LAS post photos of college players? It’s a good question, but there is a distinction for editorial use of photos by media companies. So Inside Lacrosse, 24SevenLax, the New York Times, Lacrosse Magazine, and others are ok. Can you imagine stories about college lacrosse where photos and video were illegal? That would be weird.
– What about when Colleges themselves post photos or videos? Also ok. While they are selling their university in a way, they’re also the ones playing, so it makes the most sense.
– Ok, so what if a company posts photos or videos about a team on their blog or on YouTube or Vimeo? Is there ANY company branding in there? My guess is that it could be a violation. A direct connection is made from product to player on some level. If it were me, I wouldn’t risk it. But some do…
– Does this apply to the MCLA? Nope, it does not. So go there!
So my short advice to all the companies out there using photos of NCAA lacrosse players, their names, or likenesses is to just stop. Please stop. College athletes can’t be in ads. Not of any kind. Some day the NCAA could bring down the hammer here, and that would be a sad day indeed, but also one that we very much saw coming. I’d love to not have to write this post again next year.