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February 25, 2004

The NCAA’s Mottled Media Message

FROM THE NCAA NEWS comes lengthy analysis of the particularly challenging media coverage of the organization. The complex NCAA relies on the media to tell its story to the public. But the NCAA can be a confusing dotted-line, matrixed, overlayed, redundant and absentee organization that even the media has difficulty in understanding. Never mind the reading public.

The core of the confusion is the NCAA’s Byzantine structure. There are bewildering divisions, governance structures; there are committees for sports rules and others that deal with sports issues; there are non-sport committees and there are student-athlete committees.

President Myles Brand has expressed his wonder over the general lack of knowledge about the NCAA. Some people refer to the NCAA to mean the membership, others use it to mean the headquarters staff and others use NCAA to describe the entire amalgam.

Brand said, "The NCAA is handy cover for anything that appears to run counter to common sense or the interests of some person or group."

Reporter Welch Suggs of The Chronicle of Higher Education said he is now fluent in "NCAA-ese" now but it was tough at first. He said, "It was bizarre. The toughest things were first learning how to translate that so it makes sense and it's something the readers can understand."

The NCAA gets plenty of media coverage—they receive about 15,000 media calls each year. Every day there are many dozens of stories that at least mention the NCAA. A Google News Alert alone will easily capture two or three dozen NCAA stories daily. At football bowl time or March Madness the media coverage increases sharply. The ongoing scandals also attract increased media attention.

The Indianapolis bureau of the Associated Press covers the NCAA as part of the sports beat, not a separate beat. But the bureau's sports department is stretched too thin to devote meaningful attention to the Association.

Indianapolis bureau chief Keith Robinson has said that his reporters often have struggled to put the news in non NCAA-speak. "When we get a news release that's full of legal speak and that kind of thing, it's hard to write that for a general news audience," Robinson said.

Robinson noted the difficulty in covering the Association, "(The NCAA) is still a very closed operation. Some other beats that we cover, the sportswriters have frequent contact with the coaches and the players. Particularly at the universities, you can just walk into the office, and say 'hi' to the secretary, but we can't do that at the NCAA.”

"There, you're ushered around by a security guard and he asks what you're doing there," Robinson said.

Suggs capsulated the quandary, "The general public hates and fears the NCAA because they see it as being somewhat like the IRS in terms of coming to get their schools. On the other hand, it's awfully easy to point the finger at Indianapolis when scandals break out."

The NCAA’s perceived heavy-handedness has been an ongoing source of friction. Just two days ago the “David” Atlantic 10 conference rebelled against the “Goliath” NCAA by allowing St. Bonaventure to play in the A-10 post-season basketball tournament. It was a protest against excessive penalties by the NCAA.

It’s the latest example of negative publicity of the NCAA.

(this 539 word excerpt was drawn from a 3269 word article in the NCAA News of 2-16-04)