There was no bigger story in town over the weekend than the baseball action going on at Jim Patterson Stadium. Though 4,000 people packed the stands for three straight glorious days, the national audience spotlight was on the innovative ways fans found to watch — from rooftops, an outfield berm, the top of the football stadium, the roof of a Winnebago. With little promotion, the school could have sold four times the 4,000 tickets available.
On the field, the Cardinals were splendid, losing an extra-inning nail-biter on Saturday that ultimately proved to be a madcap method for extending the party. Around it were a couple of games of hitting displays that made backers of a major college baseball power wish for a mercy rule. Joining the party were everyone who’s anyone, from Steve Kragthorpe and Rick Pitino to Jerry Abramson.
I bought tickets for the first two games, and was amazed as the quality of the baseball played. On Sunday it was the most talked-about event everywhere I went, from a Little League game in Jeffersontown to the Manual High School Baseball Banquet, just down the street from the game.
In terms of media coverage, though, officials seemed as unprepared for the onslaught of attention as the Cowboy pitching staff was for the Cardinal hitters. First of all, there was no local radio coverage (NOTE: I’M TOLD WAVG IN LOUISVILLE AIRED THE GAME ON RADIO). Unless you could get KSPI in Stillwater, Okla., you weren’t listening to the game on radio. I suspect that the marketing folks over at U of L will use the weekend series as a springboard to set up a radio broadcast network for U of L games, like most big-time college programs.
In order to host the series, the school had to follow NCAA guidelines, including the sharing of revenues. For many, including the stadium vendors, this also meant no beer sales, as the NCAA has rules against associating alcoholic beverages with its events. In fact, during regular-season games, cheap beer and free admission have been the main attractions for games at Patterson. With years of mediocrity in its past, few true baseball fans have followed the Cards, until now.
Some controversy arose when the NCAA kicked the Courier-Journal’s Brian Bennett out of the press box for the crime of blogging live reports of the action. Now, Bennett had produced live game blogs before, but the NCAA officials working the game decided this was the time to set a precedent and shut down blogging as a method for reporting on games. Never mind that the national ESPN audience had already been switched to the more competitive Michigan-Oregon State game, eliminating the only other way to know what was going on if you weren’t there (except for those KSPI listeners in Stillwater).
NCAA rep Gene McArtor revoked Bennett’s press credential in the fifth inning. The score was 16-2. It makes you wonder if the official, a former Missouri baseball coach, was bored and/or embarrassed by the game. Probably not. Officially, the NCAA claims that blog is a live representation of the game, and those rights had been sold to ESPN. But I also doubt that anyone at ESPN was griping about Bennett’s blogging. Had I been sitting in my seats in the stands, I could have just as easily provided similar reports. Do you think McArtor would have asked for my ticket?
The NCAA’s action shows it was ill-prepared for the situation, and its anti-blogging enforcement will certainly face legal scrutiny. Operating a computer, or telephone or any other electronic device from a public place is certainly a First Amendment privilege. Like some of the NCAA’s archaic recruiting rules, the organization’s attempts to patrol the actions of citizens will always face challenges.