Monday, June 11, 2007

Blogging policy shows the NCAA is out of touch

So the NCAA just ejected a sports writer from a regional baseball game for blogging.
Just as I told my class today, sports is all about making money. Sadly, that also includes those who run collegiate athletics. NCAA officials are concerned about live broadcast rights, believing such blogging will affect its ratings, so they told a beat reporter for Louisville Courier-Journal to leave the stadium in the fifth inning of the Cardinals’ 20-2 rout of Oklahoma State in a baseball supersectional that sent Louisville to the College World Series. The newspaper claims it will fight this policy as a First Amendment issue. Really, this is really a common sense issue.

The NCAA receives hundreds of thousands of column inches of free advertising each year from reporters at professional and college news publications, not to mention from bloggers. Certainly, news publications also benefit, selling newspapers to readers about these events. It’s a symbiotic relationship that has worked for a hundred years, since newspapers first started reporting on college football in late 1800s. At the time, college football gave up control of its games in order to sell their universities through sports coverage – a Faustian deal, to say the least.

Now, colleges want to promote their institutions and to pile up a fortune in advertising revenue – even if that means stepping on rights and liberties. Universities are supposed to be bastions of higher learning, where one can even debate issues that some find loathsome in order to elevate learning and to provoke higher thinking. I’d hate to see how the NCAA would run academics. (Journalism classes would be run by public relations managers and business departments would be run by the highest bidders.)

The NCAA’s argument is ridiculous. Blogs are no more a ‘live representation of the game’ than a newspaper story. Blogs contain commentary about a game typically read by those who cannot watch on television. Blogs, also referred to as live-game logs (or glogs), are growing at news sites across the country. Gloggers comment on games at and at, among other places. These reports apparently threaten the NCAA, an institution stuck in the past. More and more, newspapers are relying on glogs and blogs to capture and retain readers who can easily access results as they happen. If the NCAA wants to continue to promote its sports (and academics?), it must face this reality. Ultimately, these collegiate sports will earn higher ratings thanks to the interest created by newspaper coverage. (And, who knows, a rich alum might plunk down some money for the ol’ alma mater.)

Maybe, the NCAA wants to horde everything for itself, in much the same way MLB was trying to control broadcasts of its games earlier this season and the way the NFL appears to be leaning. Still, I cannot imagine even the dictatorial NFL refusing credentials to newspapers that glog (although I suddenly have some worries.)

The NCAA clearly needs to rethink this ridiculous policy – and not just for some ‘bleeding heart liberals’ who believe free speech is a pretty darned good thing. But also for self-preservation. The NCAA will lose revenue if it continues to refuse coverage to newspapers’ online editions. Instead, newspapers might spend more resources on other things to cover, something more dear to readers’ hearts, like Little League. And, believe me, readers will follow.

The NCAA will not win this argument in the world of public opinion. Reporters and public citizens will find a way to get information out to others. Newspapers can station a reporter in front of a TV, have sports writers file outside the press box, tell reporters to call in information, or ask fans to be citizen-reporters. There are ways of getting around this ridiculous policy. The NCAA’s own blogger calls his organization ‘arcane,’ knowing that reporters already cover so many other events on the Internet. According to the NCAA blogger: “I don’t know anybody in their right mind who would choose in-game commentary on a blog over a television broadcast, so I don’t see how there’s competition between our partners and independent bloggers who have received credentials.”

The NCAA needs to realize it no longer has control over media coverage. Heck, newspapers no longer control the news, not with blogs and message boards and web sites dedicated to commentary and news. The Internet is an intrinsic part of journalism today. Even newspapers realize this. The NCAA needs to face this fact as well, and change its policy. Either way, bloggers will find a way to report the news in some other manner. Ultimately, the NCAA will look all the more foolish for not understanding something it is supposed to be king of – marketing its sports.



gzino said...

Very well written. Agree with the theme although feel the NCAA does control the press box...for better or worse. Especially for baseball, the NCAA really needs to embrace the new mediums, and use them to better serve their fans, not fight them.

bp said...

The NCAA and the major conferences won't need the traditional media much longer. They'll just start their own networks like the BIG Ten Network, starting this Fall.

I am sure the commentators on those broadcast will just as critical of the BIG 10 as unaffiliated journalist -- yeah right.

The Big Ted already exchanges fact and accuracy for convenience (11 teams in the conference not 10, do the math).


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