According to the Tuscaloosa News, the SEC has developed and distributed to all member schools a new media policy for sporting events "sponsored or hosted by the Southeastern Conference or by any one or more of its member institutions."
Now, to be fair, creating a new policy in and of itself isn't a problem. In fact, with the surge in popularity of Twitter, it could be argued that more schools and media companies need to update their rules to reflect the 21st-century world in which we live.
(Readers might remember that ESPN attempted to do so through an internal memo last week, which created a great deal of buzz and confusion in the blogosphere over what exactly was and wasn't allowed for the company's staff and on-air talent.)
As technology and methods of communication change (namely the instant information stream for which Twitter is famous), it's important for schools, conferences, and media organizations to decide how they will deal with the opening of Pandora's box.
After all, we're barely two years from the NCAA ejecting a writer from the press box for blogging from a baseball super-regional, which the association considered to be "a live representation of the game."
Since that incident, the NCAA tried to clarify exactly what was and wasn't allowed for media in the press box, to some avail.
I admit to enduring a great deal of curiosity in the past few months, speculating how the NCAA would handle something like Twitter in 2009 (the first full season after the site's exponential user base growth), which is (almost by definition), the very real-time updates which the NCAA was previously trying to prohibit media from providing.
Apologies for the history lesson, but now that we're up to speed, let's examine some of the highlights—er, lowlights—of the SEC's new media policy, again as reported by the Tuscaloosa News.
The policy "places restrictions on TV broadcasts, limiting news stations to clips of no longer than three minutes and allowing highlights for only 72 hours after the conclusion of a game."
No problems there. Of course, I don't run a television station, so that doesn't mean a lot to me, but from what I know of coverage agreements with the different networks, the league has the right to do that (for example of a REALLY stringent policy, check out the highlights ESPN's allowed to show from the Olympic Games. Nice still images, aren't they?)
"The new media policy also affects pre- and post-game conferences, practices, or any other event..."
Alright, so practices and press conferences have the same rules as games. Got it. Next?
Credentials will be limited to "full-time salaried" employees.
Um, what? Let me see if I understand this properly. The SEC, in its best impersonation of an out-of-touch dictatorship, is telling its member schools to only allow media members that are full-time and salaried into any event they host?
(Pause while I look for the apparent punch line.)
I guess they're serious. Well, that makes sense.
Freelance football writer with a Pulitzer? "Sorry, you're not full-time."
Blogger with a million page views a day? "Sorry, you're not paying yourself a salary."
Part-time? "No can do."
Hourly? "Forget it."
(The SEC had better hope that ESPN's not paying Brent Musberger by the hour, because otherwise he won't be able to get in and cover the game.)
Which makes a perfect segue to...
"Certain exceptions will be granted to the schools themselves as well as those who have paid for specific rights, such as ESPN and CBS, which together have paid the SEC more than $3 billion to broadcast games for the next 15 years."
That sentence doesn't need much commentary. They say "money talks," right? So an hourly ESPN blogger has a solid chance at an exception that a blogger from every other media organization in the country (like the visiting team's newspaper or Web site) can only dream of.
Which word do the people in the conference prefer, I wonder? Hypocrisy, favoritism, or "monopoly" (the last of which appeared prominently in the Tuscaloosa News article as well)?
The NCAA blog Double-A Zone also has information on the new policy, including this juicy tidbit: "Bearers of the credentials will also be forbidden from producing any form of a real-time description or transmission of the event."
No blogs. No Twitter updates. No real-time anything from the press box.
Hey, that makes sense too. As anyone who's watched a Twitter feed during a big game can tell you, there's no real-time information happening.
I remember pulling my phone out after LeBron James hit a game-winning jumper in the Eastern Conference Finals. Seems like there were one or two or FIFTY people describing the event at the same time.
Hope they don't want an SEC media credential any time soon.
So if you're a fan that can't watch on TV (or are watching on TV and want instant analysis and reaction from the Internet), who do you turn to when the on-site media experts are necessarily muted? Why not other fans? After all, if the only people who can tweet from the stadium is Average Joe in Section 126, maybe I should follow him instead of the SEC beat reporters.
From the News again: "The new SEC rules also place restrictions on what ticket-holders can do while at the game. A summary printed on the back of each ticket (likely starting next year with football, since tickets for this season already have been distributed) forbids fans from taking photographs or sharing accounts or descriptions of the event."
Figures. Now instead of cracking down on players who get free Hummers or have straight F's in class, the Southeastern Conference can start sending "Twitter police" into the north end zone stands to bust anybody with a cell phone.
Picture it now.
"I'm sorry, sir, but 'Great pass by Tebow!' constitutes a real-time description of this event. I'm afraid I'll have to take your Blackberry."
Anyone else curious how long it will take the conference to come up with a device to triangulate the originating location of Twitpics and discover the exact seat in the Swamp or Death Valley they were posted from?
Maybe they can use the $15 billion to purchase a satellite and make it easier?
All sarcasm aside, the trouble with the SEC's new media policy is it makes supporting college athletics more difficult for the league's fans and administrating college athletics more difficult for the conference's member institutions.
In the Internet age, sports organizations should be looking for ways to better connect with fans and provide the content they're looking for, not hamper their experience.
Anita Moorman and Steve Dittmore published an interesting article in SportsBusiness Journal about the NCAA "losing public sentiment points" after they cracked down on the super-regional baseball blogger.
I wish the same and more for the SEC. Fans should show their support for conferences with a more open position toward new media, bloggers, and Twitter users, and maybe the SEC will get the message sooner as opposed to later.
For other conferences that may consider following suit and adopting a stringent media policy, please stop and think.
Why not spend the energy and time to embrace new technology in such a way that fans want to watch your league's games and cheer for your team's schools?
The SEC may have the country's best football teams, but if I have to read about them in dying newspapers because the Internet's shut out of the press box, I can find plenty of other teams to cheer for and support with my dollars and time.
My favorite quote from the News piece was attributed to the SEC's assistant commissioner Charles Bloom, talking specifically about the digital network content the league can control.
"In that regard, it's a great arrangement for the SEC," Bloom said.
I guess I can't sum up this policy any better than Bloom did.
Horrible for every media organization and fan, but hey, at least it's a great arrangement for the SEC.