Sidebar: Money shots

Lucrative nature of high school sports leads to limitations on news media

College level sports organizations are not the only ones getting involved in re-working press credential requirements. In recent years, high school sports associations across the country have seen an increase in dialogue, and even court cases, dealing with regulations tied to press credentials.

In Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, the issue has been debated recently due to credential requirements put in place by high school athletic associations often seeking to protect potential income.

In Indiana, Stephen Key, the general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, a trade organization of in-state newspapers, fought restrictive press policies when a high school athletic director wanted to include in the press credential agreement a clause that would prohibit sales of any of the photos taken at sporting events.

"They don't want to lessen the value ... of what they will make with their contract with their vendor," Key said. "So they've added into their credentials the requirement that the person who gets [the press pass] won't sell photos taken."

Key said students should be concerned about credentialing issues because it can impact their coverage and revenue.

"I think, looking down the road, that student publications should be in the habit of looking at what restrictions are on these credentials," Key said. "As the digital age continues to change how we cover things ... it will be important."

He also said it is important for high school students to be involved and informed so they can gain necessary experience.

"Where an athletic association wants to limit what photos can go on the Web site or how much video can be used, it can be difficult, from a news position, for students to do innovative and new things like slideshows or game clips or highlights, etc.," he said.

Josh Sharp, assistant director of government relations for the Illinois Press Association, said restrictive press policies at the high school level are different from those at the NCAA because high school athletic associations are usually considered by courts to be state actors.

As state actors -- persons or organizations acting on behalf of a government body -- high school athletic organizations are held to First Amendment standards, where the NCAA and collegiate conferences may not be. "We've had prior case precedent stating that [the Illinois High School Association] is a state actor," Sharp said. "With the multi-state situation of organizations like the NCAA or its conferences, they are not similarly situated. From cases we've seen, they're not considered state actors."

The fact that high school sports associations are regularly considered state actors, Sharp said, is a game changer. "These are for the most part taxpayer funded events," Sharp said.

"The uniforms are public, the fields are public. These are public events, paid for in large part by tax dollars."Sharp was involved in the issue working for the Illinois Press Association in 2008 when the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), which credentials media for high school tournament events, instituted requirements that would essentially give them ownership of photographs produced at games.

After photographers were kicked out of games, legislation was drafted on the state level to bar any members of the IHSA from controlling content at games or from giving preferential treatment to any of their in-house photographers, Sharp said.The legislation was eventually dropped because the IHSA decided to change the policy without being compelled by the legislature. Sharp said the change represented a victory for members of the press, including students.

"Say your school had a game-winning touchdown. If students wanted to make T-shirts with a photo of that on them -- even if you didn't want to sell them -- the rules said you couldn't," Sharp said. "What the IHSA was trying to do was ridiculous."

Sharp said in his view, it is important for students to have rights to freely cover sporting events."The students have every right to cover what's happening at their school and report to the student body what's going on," he said.

"High school sports are a big part of high school student culture and student life."

With journalists' methods of disseminating information changing, credentialing bodies have been caused to take a new look at what they consider fair use of content.

"One of the issues that we are dealing with right now we have not had to face before -- that is where schools will have Facebook or MySpace pages." said Tim Stried, the director of information services for the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

"If I credential a student to take pictures, can they upload them to a Facebook or MySpace page? Our rules say they can use them on school Web site. We haven't determined an answer yet, but it's something we're talking about."

Stried also said space issues are a concern, because with an increasing number of people and organizations generating content, it is not always easy to allot a limited number of press spaces at sporting events.

reports, Winter 2009-10