Indiana University

National Sports Journalism Center

Getting Schooled in Sports Journalism

NCAA avoids discussion when it needs it most

There can be no denying the fact that the NCAA is on a bit of a losing streak these days. On the fields and courts, things look pretty good, unless you consider that traditional rivalries are being eliminated by a giant cash-grab by member schools. The folks in Indianapolis can’t do much about that; it’s sort of a states-rights thing. The conferences and their memberships need to administer themselves.

In other areas, however, the governing body has been taking a beating. Its ham-handed investigation of the University of Miami has led it to fire its VP of enforcement and created a huge level of doubt throughout the sporting community about the organization’s ability to lead effectively. Some have called for the NCAA to be disbanded simply due to the Miami mishap. And, given the situation (the NCAA paid convicted felon Nevin Shapiro’s lawyer $19,000 to help it hammer the Hurricanes), there is some credence to the argument that college sports’ governing body is out of control.

But that’s not all. Its penalizing of Penn State in the wake of the horrific Jerry Sandusky scandal smacked of imperial fiat. The NCAA conducted no investigation of its own and couldn’t necessarily prove that any of its by-laws were broken, yet it hit PSU with some huge penalties. Granted, Sandusky is a monster, and no one will ever be able to convince me that Joe Paterno didn’t know what was going on under the Nittany Lion football roof, but the NCAA was over the line on that one.

Then there’s the matter of a $1 billion lawsuit that is proceeding, despite repeated NCAA attempts to have it eradicated from the judicial landscape. Seems a bunch of former college football and basketball players are pretty cheesed that the organization is profiting from the use of their likenesses in video games – while giving nothing to the athletes. If this one makes it to court, the legal fees will sting. If the NCAA loses, it could be crippled.

Against this backdrop, the Associated Press Sports Editors have been trying for a sit-down with NCAA president Mark Emmert to discuss a variety of topics. Among them are the moving of about 30% of media from courtside at the 2013 Final Four, concern about the growing propensity for Division I schools to limit the social media reporting rights of those covering games and practices and overall dismay about the credentialing process, which seems to be more and more arbitrary, and in some cases, punitive.

This is no time for Emmert to be alienating the people who have the ability to shape public opinion for or against him. Even though the 17 members of the NCAA’s executive committee “unanimously” supported him last week, there are still those who believe Emmert is in trouble. This is not to say the media can save his job, but sitting down with them to discuss their issues might well allow them to understand his situation better. In terms of pure public relations, this is basic stuff. Organizations and individuals should cultivate the media, rather than keeping them away.

Emmert’s personal situation aside, the NCAA’s unwillingness to address the situation with the APSE demonstrates a growing antagonism toward the press throughout the sporting world. By refusing to discuss some serious concerns, the organization is proving that it no longer considers giving media proper access important and refuses to understand the changing parameters of the reporting landscape. For instance, if a writer or broadcaster wants to send out unlimited tweets about an event he is covering, there are some schools that will revoke his credential, because the transmissions interfere with the school’s ability to lure readers with its own tweets. That’s a totalitarian approach to media relations. The “state” – in this case the school – doesn’t want the media to interfere with its attempts to influence. That can’t happen. By refusing to sit down with APSE reps, Emmert is allowing it to continue unabated.

Moving 30% of the media from courtside at the Final Four may not seem like a big deal, but it is clearly the first step toward a full exodus, the better to accommodate corporate sponsors. With the Final Four now at domed venues exclusively, there are precious few vantage points that afford the media complete access to the action. Keeping them courtside is one way to make sure the events are chronicled accurately and fully.

The APSE will keep trying to meet with Emmert, and it would behoove him to extend an invitation for representatives to visit with him in Indianapolis. It certainly won’t hurt him to open a dialogue, and it could well help the NCAA work out a 21st century relationship with the media that allows it to do its job in a new landscape, while giving the organization a chance to explain its concerns. Nobody wins when unilateral decisions are made, and at a time when the NCAA could use a positive relationship with the media, shutting it out isn’t a particularly good idea.

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