Saturday, June 16, 2007

NCAA in-game blogging ban bogus, 'NCAAian'

You know I wanted to get on a trip about this whole blogging/new media/social media craze but let's talk about one of the pitfalls of this. There are those who don't respect this new medium. This is what I found from the Chicago Tribune's Hypertext blog...
Is publishing to the Internet "broadcasting"?

Although it's been unspoken, that question is at the core of the debate over the newspaper sportswriter whom the NCAA foolhardily tossed from a game for live-blogging it from the stadium.

The Louisville Courier-Journal and its writer, Brian Bennett, contend that he was offering instant analysis, not simply a regurgitation of the facts of the game, when he had his credential taken away at a Louisville-Oklahoma State game Sunday.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association contends that what Bennett was doing, as a "live representation of the game," amounted to competition for the official broadcast and Internet partners, folks who pay money for the rights to disseminate the games. This being college baseball, it's small money, but the principle is the thing, and surely the NCAA envisions applying it to bigger-revenue, bigger-interest sports like basketball and football.

In essence, the college-sports consortium contends that the sportswriter was mounting his own, guerrilla broadcast.

It's true -- putting something on the Web, even in text format, is a sort of broadcasting -- but nonetheless, the college sports group's move is remarkably short sighted.

First, Bennett's writing was in no way competition to the official telecast or radio cast. No college baseball fan would choose reading a blog over watching or listening to the thing itself. At best (for the newspaper), the fan might have the blog up on a computer as he watched the game, but even that's good for the NCAA. It maintains interest in the game, instead of luring people off to one of the thousands of other corners of the Net that might come across as more immediately enticing than amateur baseball.

Second, he could have written exactly the same thing by watching the official telecast from his living room or the Courier-Journal newsroom. To try to prevent people from reacting to your entertainment in one venue while allowing it in another is so absurd it needs a new adjective: "NCAAian."

Third, and most important, the NCAA is an idiot if it thinks it can or should start trying to micromanage what newspapers do with their games. No medium has been more responsible for the rise of college athletics. And if the league thinks it can maintain or grow popularity without newspapers or other fan intermediaries -- a group that now includes bloggers -- then it must be true that if you were to go to NCAA headquarters, you would find a cave.
Another blogger, Andy Rainey, talks about this story and gives his own experience attempting to cover a game only to be told to stop by the NCAA...
This particular issue strikes a nerve with me, because I had the exact same experience a few years ago when I was covering my first-ever sporting event as the newly-hired webmaster for fledgling TV network College Sports Southeast. As green as a cucumber, this 23-year-old pseudo-journalist was stoked about being in the press box to cover the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover via a live scoreboard/in-game chat/analysis (an early predecessor to the modern game log). Assuming freedom of the press, and further assuming my activities were kosher based on the fact that my employer was televising the game and had asked me to do this task as an accompaniment, I set about enthusiastically tracking the action play-by-play for my huge audience of maybe 20 people. No matter, it was about the game, and the purity of it, right?

About four innings into the first contest of the day, an SEC representative approached me and asked me to cease my activities because this type of content could only be posted after the game due to live broadcast rights reserved by the NCAA. When I explained that those broadcast rights had been assigned by the NCAA to MY EMPLOYER, to my sheer amazement it made no difference, and I was kindly asked to either close my laptop or vacate the pressbox immediately.

Granted, the NCAA has a product just like any for-profit company, and they have the right to protect that product. I'm as free-market capitalist as anyone. But is it really in their best interest to shut down activities that PROMOTE their product, and encourage others to follow it more closely? Seems like cutting off the nose to spite the face to me. Of course, this same debate could be applied to the music, movie and TV industry about file-sharing and the use of the internet to spread the reach of their products. But that's an argument best saved for another day.

No matter the validity of the NCAA's claim on their product, I for one learned a lot about the business of sports that May afternoon seven years ago. As an enthusiastic fan, I assumed that the games were more than a product with restrictions and limitations. At its best, sport is fun - it unites people from all walks of life with a sense of common purpose, common goals, and genuine pride and enthusiasm in the spirit of good, clean competition. At its worst, sport is... well, this. I assumed the idea was for the experience to be shared by everyone. I was naive, and Brian Bennett of the Louisville Courier-Journal learned that same lesson on Sunday. That was the day that changed my perception of the games we play, and is indicative of why my fanhood has dwindled to the level of marginal interest over the years. It is one of the main reasons why I do not miss working in the sports industry today.

I'll get to work on my new media/social media post ASAP.

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