NCAA violated rights of ejected reporter

Editorial

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is applying 20th-century thinking to 21st-century news events, tossing the constitutional right of a free press as it tossed a reporter from the press box at a college baseball tournament. The offense? Blogging.

The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., reported one of its sports reporters, Brian Bennett, was ejected by NCAA official Gene McArtor, who also revoked Bennett’s press credential during a University of Louisville-Oklahoma State University baseball game. Bennett’s blogging during the game was in violation of NCAA rules, the story said.

Read that as the NCAA signed a contract for televising these games and, to protect its financial interest, is hassling reporters from other media. Bennett had been sending occasional messages to the Courier-Journal Web site, the paper reported, as he had done at two previous playoff games in Columbia, Mo.

The University of Louisville circulated a memo before the game from NCAA manager of broadcasting Jeramy Michiaels, the Courier-Journal reported, that said the NCAA regards blogs as a “live representation of the game.”

The newspaper’s attorney correctly differed with that assertion. Jon L. Fleischaker was quoted as saying that, “Once a player hits a home run, that’s a fact. It’s on TV. Everybody sees it. (The NCAA) can’t copyright that fact. The blog wasn’t a simulcast or a recreation of the game. It was an analysis.”

Indeed. Bennett didn’t have a handheld camera that transmitted game action directly to viewers. His eyes saw what was on the field, his brain processed it and his fingers typed his thoughts about it on a computer keyboard. It’s no more “live representation” than what sportswriters have done in press boxes since game stories were written on typewriters.

The only difference is when people were able to read his observations. Instead of the next morning’s paper, Bennett’s views went on computer screens a few minutes later. It’s what sports fans rely upon in what are different media than had been available previously.

With more competition than ever among sporting events for fans to attend or follow through the media, sports moguls should be doing less, not more, to impede journalists’ efforts to report on their games.

And, since most colleges are public, their stadiums are built and maintained with tax dollars. So the First Amendment should apply to NCAA policy, and uniformly extended to private facilities as well.