The NCAA shelled out for 'March Madness'

When are two words worth $17.2 million? When you have many more millions -- correction: billions -- riding on this little thing called the NCAA tournament.

Yes, according to USA Today's Steve Weiberg, last October the NCAA quietly went about securing the trademark rights to the term "March Madness." The NCAA paid the sum to get sports and entertainment marketing company Intersport to stop using the term (most recently) in programming for mobile devices. Intersport is, according to its website, an "award-winning innovator and leader in the creation of sports and entertainment based marketing platforms" [sic]. More concretely, it plans events like the high school slam-dunk and three-point contests that take place the same week as the Final Four and, in fact, took out the original trademark rights on "March Madness" more than 20 years ago.

There have been other, smaller claims on "March Madness," particularly by the Illinois High School Association, which shared the trademark with Intersport before relinquishing control but retaining use of the term for its state basketball championship tournaments, according to Weiberg.

If $17 million seems like a lot of money for the rights to a popularly used phrase, consider the following: The NCAA has a $700-million annual budget. That budget was made possible almost entirely by the massive (read: 14 years, $11 billion) television rights fees CBS and Turner paid the NCAA to broadcast the NCAA tournament. The NCAA tournament is frequently referred to as "March Madness."

I'm not sure $17 million isn't disproportionate to the cause at hand here. After all, it's not like people are going to be confused when you say "March Madness" simply because a marketing company uses the words on an iPhone app. That term will always be associated with the NCAA tournament. It's not going away. But with that much money on the line, one can understand the vigilance.