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The NCAA vs. Free Speech

Since when is it okay for a sports organization to curb university students' rights to publicly express their opinions?

by
Robert Shibley

Bio

May 11, 2009 - 12:00 am
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As any college student or sports fan knows, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is one of the most powerful institutions in the world of American higher education. Flush with billions in cash from the television rights to college football games and the NCAA basketball tournament, there are few aspects of college sports that the NCAA does not try to regulate. From rules on numbers of scholarships and required GPAs to rules on recruiting and even on universities’ mascots and nicknames, everyone involved in university athletics is under the NCAA’s thumb.

With the rise of the Internet and social networking, however, the NCAA’s grasp has begun to encompass everyday students who have nothing to do with a school’s athletic program other than being a supporter of their school’s team. As a result, free speech rights are in jeopardy.

A few weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that North Carolina State University had sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to freshman Taylor Moseley for a recruiting violation. His crime? He set up a group on Facebook.com entitled “John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!!” Wall is currently a highly sought-after basketball recruit. More than 700 people joined the group.

As the AP reported, “the NCAA says such sites, and dozens more like them wooing Wall and other top recruits, violate its rules. More than just cheerleading boards, the NCAA says the sites are an attempt to influence the college choice of a recruit.” Voila. The NCAA’s jurisdiction has just expanded to cover every student at every university who dares venture an opinion about recruiting on the Internet.

In fact, the NCAA appears to be completely comfortable using its regulations to silence people whose only connection with a given university is being a fan of the team. Duke University recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to student Jimmy Mueller, who created a Facebook group encouraging John Wall to attend Duke. Mueller isn’t a Duke student, though. He’s a sophomore at the University of Akron and is merely a fan of the Duke team. Indeed, if Mueller had not been a student at all, but rather an average working person, there’s no reason to suppose Duke wouldn’t have sent the letter anyway.

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