The NFL‘s announcement last month that they will severely limit the length of online video on non-league sites is only the latest news in a trend by leagues to increase control over online video content. The NFL wants to be the only place you watch pro football online. This is bad for fans.

Pro sports leagues have always exerted control over their content and the loss of control brought on by digital media growth scares them. There are very specific contractual guidelines TV networks must follow when they broadcast sporting events, most notably copyright warning and logo placements. It is more difficult to enforce these rules online, and while all leagues have taken steps to protect the content they control, the NFL’s latest move is the strictest to date.

John McClain, a sports writer for the Houston Chronicle, regularly uses video interviews to add to his stories. He recently created a video spoof of the rule (below) to raise attention to what he sees as “preposterous” restrictions.

More on McClain and online video’s place in major US sports after the jump.

On McClain’s blog, it is clear that the video has made a resounding point. The comments section has turned into a running discussion on the restrictions and their implications. And with only 45 seconds of interview footage allowed per day, it’s clear that fans will be shortchanged.

But all of this goes back to a larger issue in media. The question is whether the low cost of covering sports online should prompt leagues to separate video content exclusively on league sites, or whether leagues should allow coverage of the sport to naturally flow through all new media forms.

Of American leagues, the NHL (reacting to a continuous decline in TV ratings) has been the only sports institution to embrace the democratization of media, signing a deals with companies like YouTube and SlingMedia to allow for easy copying and distribution of online video clips. The NBAhas been generally lenient and, like the NHL, has a YouTube channel.

This is in stark contrast to the MLB and the NFL, which regularly troll for unlicensed online content and send DMCA take-down notices in bulk.

Professional content producers like McClain are providing coverage which adds to a print column and offers fans more of their team than they would get from a five minute sports segment on the evening news. Independently produced online video is one of the fundamental advantages of the internet as a medium, and sports leagues are missing an opportunity to improve the fan experience by cutting it off at the knees.

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