Virginia urologists with a slam-dunk vasectomy campaign.
Enlarge / Virginia urologists with a slam-dunk vasectomy campaign.

For one shining moment, urologists in Virginia were hoping to have patients icing on the bench as they watched this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. But the college athletics association has called a foul.

In a February filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office, the NCAA claims that a trademarked advertising campaign by Virginia Urology Center called “Vasectomy Mayhem” is “confusingly similar” to the association’s trademarked “March Madness.”

The continued use of “Vasectomy Mayhem” is “likely to result in confusion, mistake, or deception” that the campaign and/or the urologists are “in some way legitimately connected with, or sponsored, licensed, or approved by” the NCAA, the association claimed.

From the sidelines, “Vasectomy Mayhem” may seem like nothing more than a desperate shot at a birth control campaign by the Richmond, Virginia-based doctors. But a replay of the campaign’s ballsy theme helps explain why the NCAA is staying firm on the issue.

The urologists explicitly link vasectomies to the annual tournament, writing on their website that the annual campaign in March originally “started so men could watch college basketball for the 3 recovery days” after the procedure.

Balls and tubes

Vasectomies are a nearly 100 percent effective form of male birth control that involves only low-risk, outpatient surgery. In a 10- to 30-minute procedure, doctors snip and tie off the vas deferens—the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles to the urethra. In most cases, it is far less costly and complicated than female sterilization and long-term birth control drugs for women. Doctors simply recommend that men rest for 24 hours and take it easy for two or three days after the snipping.

In March of 2011, Virginia Urology published a post on their website offering patients a special “recovery kit” if they have their vasectomy between March 16 and April 1, the rough timeframe of the NCAA tournament. “Prime basketball is on the tube all month so no better time to get it done,” the post said.

Similarly, in a video advertisement for the campaign, the urologists implore potential patients to “call now to align your couch time with optimal tube time for the best games.” It also uses images of basketballs and a basketball tournament bracket and includes the phrases “Hoops Madness” and “Vasectomy Madness,” playing on the March Madness theme. In another video, doctors appear on an actual basketball court, dribbling a ball.

Dominic Madigan, a lawyer for Virginia Urology, told NBC News that he’s confident the USPTO was correct in granting the doctors’ trademark of “Vasectomy Mayhem.”

“We don’t think anyone has confused our vasectomy ads with any other organization,” Madigan said. “We are disappointed with this costly and unnecessary legal challenge but will remain focused on caring for our community.”

Still, the urologists appear to have tried to scrub the mayhem from their website. The link to the vasectomy mayhem page (https://www.uro.com/about-us/vasectomy-mayhem/) is simply titled “Vasectomy Time” now, and vasectomymadness.com redirects to an error message on the practice’s website. The urologists now tout the link VasectomyTime.com, which is apparently for any time.