How’s this for a good underdog sports story: Rob Rang teaches literature at Mt. Tahoma High in Tacoma, the same school he attended about 20 years ago. He’s also an NFL draft analyst for nfldraftscout.com, which is part of CBS Sports’ online network. In other words, Rang’s the kind of stats geek who pores over college football players’ body mass index and 40-yard-dash time and yards after the catch, finding order in the chaos to predict which pro team will choose which athlete at which spot at the annual draft in April. And for that he’s been sued for $1.2 million.

See, Rang isn’t the only one who rates those players before the draft. Services like National Football Scouting send employees to college games and practices to grade the NFL potential of thousands of amateur athletes as well. But rather than publish that intel for insatiable football fans to pick apart over wings and beer, NFS sells it to the teams themselves for $75,000 per year, to aid them in the selection process. And on September 21, 2011, after discovering that a handful of its player grades had shown up in Rang’s articles for NFL Draft Scout for the third time, NFS filed suit in U.S. District Court. The analyst argued he was just doing his job as a reporter, giving fans what they wanted. But NFS claimed he had infringed its copyright by publishing trade secrets. “A review of the articles themselves shows that their primary purpose is to disclose NFS’s grades and make Rang look like an ‘insider’ to his readers,” the service’s attorneys wrote in one brief.

Turns out, the suit may have more to do with smoking out Rang’s sources. NFS sent him three warning letters prior to suing, and in each case it offered to back off if he’d just roll on his mole. Rang called their bluff, and now he’s waiting to see how much cash—if any—he’ll have to fork over for protecting his insiders. (Neither Rang nor NFS would comment for this article.) The case was scheduled for a jury trial in February, but as of early December the judge was considering a motion from Rang’s attorney asking that the case be dropped on the grounds that publishing the grades constituted fair use.

Rang once told a Seattle Times reporter that draft analysis kept him up nights, as stats danced through his head. No doubt it’s still affecting his sleep, but for different reasons altogether.

 

Published: January 2013

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