NCAA threatens to sue Point Loma collegiate pickleball promoter over name of his organization

Players try out some of the new pickleball courts at Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma in July.
(Barnes Tennis Center)

The NCAA has threatened to file a trademark infringement lawsuit against a recent graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University who has organized a large collegiate pickleball tournament scheduled for March in Spring Valley.

The governing body of college sports alleges that Noah Suemnick’s use of the name National Collegiate Pickleball Association to promote the event is likely to cause confusion and harm the public because of its similarity to the NCAA’s name, National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Suemnick, 22, contends the name is not confusing and that he is using a significantly different logo.

Suemnick, who graduated from Point Loma Nazarene last spring, said pickleball is exploding in popularity and revenue opportunities and the NCAA wants “to get in on it.”

But pickleball advocates who have proposed converting some tennis courts at the Peninsula Tennis Club in Ocean Beach say the 19 new pickleball courts coming to Barnes are just a small step toward a dedicated facility.

July 14, 2023

Doug Masters, a Chicago lawyer handling the situation for the NCAA, said the organization has an interest in pickleball, noting that it is under consideration to become an official NCAA sport.

Suemnick said the threat of litigation isn’t going to jeopardize the March tournament, where players from more than 50 colleges are slated to compete at The Hub pickleball courts that opened in January in Spring Valley.

But Suemnick said he’d like to avoid changing the name of his organization, contending it has financial value and that a name change would be a hassle for social media accounts he already created.

The conflict with the NCAA was sparked when he filed a federal trademark application for National Collegiate Pickleball Association, which prompted the NCAA to claim unauthorized use of its intellectual property.

The 117-year-old organization sent Suemnick a sharply worded letter last month.

“Your client’s application to register and his use of the National Collegiate Pickleball Association mark in this context constitute trademark infringement, dilution and unfair competition under federal, state and common law,” the letter states. “As a result, our client will be entitled to injunctive and monetary relief as well as its attorneys’ fees in a lawsuit.”

Masters said the NCAA has no problem with Suemnick staging pickleball events involving colleges but objects to the name he’s using.

In particular, Masters said, the word “association” is misleading because Suemnick is one person, not an association of colleges like the NCAA.

“We’re hoping they can tweak the name,” said Masters, who added that he’s been waiting for a response from Suemnick’s attorney.

Masters said the NCAA first notified Suemnick and his attorney of its concerns months ago in hopes of giving him ample time to smoothly transition to a new name.

“We want to work with them,” Masters said. “But recently they’ve taken a more aggressive stance.”

Peninsula Tennis Club in Ocean Beach, the city of San Diego and private pickleball facilities are working to address the citywide issue.

Jan. 13, 2023

Suemnick said the NCAA is not consistent in prioritizing alleged trademark infringement, noting that it has declined to crack down on two other organizations: the National Collegiate Boxing Association and the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

Masters said he doubts the NCAA is aware of those organizations and contended it likely would follow the same course if either of them filed a federal trademark application.

Suemnick grew up in Carlsbad and graduated from Santa Fe Christian High School in Solana Beach. He first learned pickleball — a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton — in Carlsbad and launched a club at Point Loma Nazarene.

“It just blew up — we had 100 players super fast,” he said.

He then organized some college tournaments, first with schools from California and then with schools from Nevada and Arizona.

“My whole mentality was make it bigger and make it better,” he said.

Suemnick founded the National Collegiate Pickleball Association in February and began planning the large collegiate tournament for next March. He said he hopes to make it an annual event.

He said he’s already lined up tens of thousands of dollars in sponsorships and is negotiating with CBS Sports to televise it and a series of other college pickleball events.

In addition to collegiate matches, the March event is to include professional pickleball players and celebrities in a separate competition.

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