Legal Corner: Don’t Wait Until March to Express Madness to the NCAA

For years, the relationship between the media and the entities they cover has been complex. Perhaps nowhere is this more complex than where sports and entertainment are involved. The media and a sports league or team, a musician or artist, and/or the venues or events at which they perform had always understood that the relationship was built on both partnership and confrontation. They would closely guard their information and you would dig for access to that information — until they realized that you were effectively providing free publicity, at which point, they would give you the right story under the right conditions. It was never perfect, but it worked. And the public benefited.

In recent years that has changed as media evolved. Whether it was athletes or artists creating individual websites and then social media accounts or leagues or teams doing the same, in addition to creating their own cable channels, the media have been slowly cut out. Restrictions on access to events, places and individuals have increased, as have restrictions on your ability to publish what you see and learn. We believe the partnership still exists and the interplay between independently owned media and the athletic and entertainment communities needs to thrive. We continue to try and cultivate that relationship. Unfortunately, our efforts have not always been reciprocated.

That’s why AAN has been working with several other media organizations on various credentialing topics, with a distinct eye toward educating our members on several issues. While credentialing provisions are becoming increasingly restrictive and enforcement actions are being taken for things that otherwise would not violate credentials or would be viewed as a “de minimus” violation that might lead to a stern word, nothing more, we’re not sure that reporters, editors, publishers and publications are really taking notice. We’re hoping to highlight blatantly restrictive credentialing provisions or actions taken by those issuing the credentials so that you understand that you don’t simply have to take this lying down – you do have rights and can push back. How you do that is up to you, but we’ll try to educate you on the provisions themselves and some success stories that have occurred in the past. We also want to be the first point of contact in keeping the lines of communication open.

Which is why AAN joined a letter (PDF) that was sent to the NCAA this week by ten media organizations. We believe this is especially important to AAN members, many of whom don’t have a professional sports franchise in their community but almost all of which have a college or university that is probably — literally — the biggest game in town, sports or otherwise. Though not unique to the NCAA, we’ve seen NCAA member institutions (the conferences and schools) take several actions in the past few years that have made it much more difficult to cover their events.

Reporters are increasingly being told not to report on things they see with their own eyes at practices and games and several reporters and publications have reported that university sports information departments have contacted them regarding a mandatory limit on live, in-game updates. Wanting to get ahead of potential problems, representatives of the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Sports Editors each contacted the office of NCAA President Mark Emmert on several occasions to set up a meeting. Each time they were told that a meeting would be arranged. It has not occurred. This letter represents a final attempt to make that happen, potentially a last hope between the organizations that represent the thousands of media entities that cover hundreds of colleges and universities around the country.

And if you’re not into sports, should you still be interested? By all means, we’ve mentioned “entertainment”, “artists” and “musicians” on several occasions in this update. These issues are not restricted to sports. We’re seeing them more and more in the arts and entertainment communities. They’ve been a mainstay at concerts and awards shows, but are now beginning to pervade even purely local events like fundraisers, gallery openings and art shows. You need to understand that this is a big issue and that you have rights. Don’t hesitate to contact AAN if you need more information.