This year, as the on-court performance of 18-22 year-olds takes over part of the nation’s collective attention, the body that is supposed to regulate college athletics, the NCAA, is under the PR microscope.
And speaking of a microscope, a really powerful one is what you might need to find the NCAA’s PR strategy in the face of adversity because it can’t be detected by the naked eye. One of the adages we preach to clients who are faced with PR challenges is “speak for yourself because others who don’t share your agenda will gladly speak for you.” That is certainly happening in the case of the NCAA.
From commentators like ESPN’s Jay Bilas (a former college basketball player and practicing attorney) who calls the NCAA’s model “profoundly immoral” in this Wall Street Journal interview to University Presidents like Miami’s Donna Shalala, whose school was at the crosshairs of a NCAA investigation handled improperly, to the attorneys of a case against the NCAA that could entitle players to payment for their likeness, the NCAA is being lambasted in the media. Everybody with an interest seems to be talking, except the NCAA.
In the next three weeks, with everyone from casual office pool participants to hard-core fans to loyal alumni watching, how will the NCAA take steps to try to convince its audience of its value? It is in the best interest of the NCAA, to use this opportunity to communicate its messages and explain to the public how it plans to evolve its model if, in fact it does, or defend its model if it does not. This is the opportunity, while it has the public’s attention for its marquee event (it does not control college football’s championship), to enter the dialogue with its own story, beyond its 30-second “student athlete” commercials.
But, it’s important to remember that the NCAA is ruled by an Executive Committee, comprised of presidents of the universities for which the NCAA represents to rightsholders and sponsors and over which the NCAA polices behavior. Since the Miami investigation scandal broke, a statement reported in this story is all that has come out from the Executive Committee. So, despite the PR madness, expect the show go on as usual, with critics taking the lead.