Communication and Contradiction in the NCAA

An Unlevel Playing Field

by Mike Milford (Volume editor) Lauren Reichart Smith (Volume editor)
Textbook 2020 XII, 286 Pages


Communication and Contradiction in the NCAA: An Unlevel Playing Field is a critical examination of the contradictory nature of the NCAA, and how the inherent contradictions impact the communication activities of its constituents, supporters, and challengers. At the heart of the NCAA is the student-athlete, born out of an idealistic collection of communal values that is often at odds with institutional practices. The rhetorical negotiation of the student-athlete’s identity informs and confuses communication practices on a number of levels, from interpersonal interactions to organizational apologia. Because the student-athlete is critical to maintaining the collegiate athletics orientation, the NCAA works overtime in promoting, maintaining, and defending it in the face of public scrutiny. The NCAA and its member institutions, like any organization, are compelled to answer public accusations, often working to defend inconsistent policies to an increasingly hostile audience. In an effort to solidify its power, the NCAA uses public discourse to maintain its position by establishing and enforcing proper codes of conduct for participants, and rationalizing unfair labor practices, athletics budgets, and rising tuition costs designed to boost athletics. In response they often rely on familiar rhetorical and organizational practices, such as branding, mascots, and heroic stories of student-athletes, all of which come with issues of their own. All of these communication phenomena, from interpersonal support-seeking to organizational scapegoating, are informed by the central student-athlete mythos. This puts the NCAA at a contradictory crossroads as they work to reconcile inconsistent practices and messages.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The NCAA from Conception to Contradiction (Mike Milford, Auburn University)
  • Section I: The NCAA’s Field of Play
  • Chapter One: Communication and Contradiction in the NCAA (Mike Milford, Auburn University & Lauren Reichart Smith, Indiana University)
  • Chapter Two: Competition, Conflict, and the NCAA (Lauren Reichart Smith, Indiana University)
  • Section II: The Mythos of the Student-Athlete
  • Chapter Three: Contesting the Meaning of Collegiate Football: Competing Narratives at the Birth of the NCAA (Karen L. Hartman, Idaho State University)
  • Chapter Four: Student-Athlete Socialization into the NCAA Division I Environment: Communicating Contradictions (Gregory A. Cranmer, Clemson University & Karlee A. Posteher California State University, Monterey Bay)
  • Chapter Five: The NCAA’s Mythos of the Student-Athlete and Academic Clustering: Media Guides and/as Contradiction (Travis R. Bell, University of South Florida)
  • Section III: Organizational Authority and Control in College Athletics
  • Chapter Six: Do as I Say, Not as I Do: The NCAA and Social Media Contradictions within Intercollegiate Athletics (Jimmy Sanderson, Texas Tech University)
  • Chapter Seven: The Function of Counter-Arguments Built on Charges of Absurdity and Ridicule: Compelling Change in the NCAA (Angela M. Jerome, Western Kentucky University)
  • Chapter Eight: Penn State, the NCAA, and the Rhetoric of Accusation: Power through Victimage (Mike Milford, Auburn University)
  • Section IV: Conflicting Values in College Athletics
  • Chapter Nine: The Contradictory Relationship between Tuition Increases, Image Repair, and the NCAA: Take It to the Bank (Joseph R. Blaney, Illinois State University)
  • Chapter Ten: The Contrasting Influence of Team Identification and Fan Dysfunction on the Hostile and Verbal Aggression of NCAA Fans: Lashing Out in Pride (David M. Castleman, Daniel L. Wann, & Jana Hackathorn, Murray State University)
  • Chapter Eleven: Exploiting Contradictions of Capital in the NCAA: Rhetoric and Economic Materialism in the University of Missouri Football Protest (Shawn N. Smith & Michael L. Butterworth, The University of Texas at Austin)
  • Chapter Twelve: The “Plantation Mentality”: Problems of White Antiracist Criticism of the NCAA (Daniel A. Grano, University of North Carolina Charlotte & Kenneth S. Zagacki, North Carolina State University)
  • Chapter Thirteen: Critical Race Theory, the NCAA, and College Baseball: Contradiction on the Diamond (Andrew Dix, Middle Tennessee State University)
  • Chapter Fourteen: Striking a Middle Ground: A Neocolonialist Analysis of the NCAA’s Mascot Ban (Katherine Lavelle, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)
  • Chapter Fifteen: “I Need a Hero”: Representation, Support and the NCAA’s Disruptive Role in the Fan Identification Formula (Phillip Chidester & Joshua Fitzgerald, Illinois State University)
  • Chapter Sixteen: The Future of the NCAA and Collegiate Athletics (Mike Milford, Auburn University & Lauren Reichart Smith, Indiana University)
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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The editors would like to thank the contributors for their hard work in making this project a reality. They would also like to thank Erika Hendrix and the staff at Peter Lang for shepherding them through this process.

Mike Milford would like to acknowledge the School of Communication and Journalism and the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University for providing much-needed time to finish this project.

Lauren Reichart Smith would like to acknowledge the Media School at Indiana University for their support of this project, the student-athletes across the country who were willing to share anecdotes, and all NCAA student-athletes past, present, and future, who work in tireless pursuit of their dreams.

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Introduction: The NCAA from Conception to Contradiction

Auburn University

The NCAA was born out of contradiction and since that moment of genesis, it has worked to manage those conflicts in an effort to retain its control of collegiate athletics. The popular story goes that in 1905 a number of university presidents, alarmed by the recent rash of deaths and serious injuries in football, met to discuss how the game could be reformed to improve player safety. Football was in desperate need of attention as 19 players at various levels had died on the field that year, and dozens other were permanently injured. Thanks to the influence of President T. Roosevelt, the loose confederation of universities agreed to create an organization that would manage intercollegiate competition and standardize rules for football. The next year Captain Palmer Pierce of the U.S. Military Academy was elected the first president of what would become the NCAA (Falla, 1981, p. ix). This romantic tale of the rough and ready Roosevelt coming to the aid of the game that defined the American spirit is popular, but incomplete (Miller, 2012; Zezima, 2014).

One minor detail left out of the story is that the presidents were wary of having major donors in the stands watching students die on the playing field because it would impact their ability to raise funds for their universities. Rader (1996) notes that it didn’t take long for presidents to see college sports as a tool to attract students and development dollars; as early as the late 1800s colleges were promoting intercollegiate athletics as a recruitment tool (p. 91). Montez de Oca (2013) notes that the much-celebrated renovations to college football during the inception of the NCAA did little to alleviate its real violence and injury problems; ←1 | 2→rather it simply made the game “faster paced and easier for fans to understand,” thus making it more popular with fans and bringing in higher gate receipts (p. 9).

The physical cost of the sport wasn’t the only aspect of intercollegiate athletics that needed reform; cheating was blatant and rampant, which hurt football’s bottom line. Programs hired players for a season, or even a weekend, barely making an effort to hide their chicanery. In 1893 the University of Michigan football team was found to have used seven players who weren’t enrolled at the university (Crowley, 2006, p. 37). In 1896 West Virginia student and future Michigan coach Fielding Yost transferred to another university for a rivalry game, and then transferred back to play the next week (Crowley, 2006, p. 37). Such practices scoffed at the notion that intercollegiate sports were related to the educational mission of the universities, instead showing that institutions were willing to take incredible risks for economic payoffs. The creation of the NCAA was allegedly designed to aid in alleviating those issues, but the organization put the enforcement for such infractions in the hands of the institutions, which to no one’s surprise did very little to mitigate the problems. Smith (1988) notes that in the first few decades after its inception the organization gave the public appearance of structure and order to appease the masses, while member institutions adopted a “laissez-faire mentality” in their adherence to their own regulations (p. 207).

The NCAA’s power over student-athletes and programs grew in proportion to economic interests in college athletics. Oriard (2009) noted the ways in which the NCAA reforms, though well-intentioned, made and continue make no significant changes and keep student academics an afterthought in service to revenues generated (p. 188). The major shift occurred in 1951 when the NCAA secured broadcasting rights to sports, mostly football, which changed the organization “from a confederation of semiautonomous institutions into a powerful governing and policing body that controlled collegiate athletics” (Montez de Oca, 2013, p. 74). As more money became available, the NCAA and its members engaged in what Arkansas’s football coach Frank Broyles called the “competition for the entertainment dollar” (Evans, 1974, p. 36). In 1979 the Big East conference was created with the express purpose of tapping into the TV dollars in the major northeast media markets. Three years later, a consortium of programs broke the NCAA’s monopoly on broadcasting contracts, which only expanded the institutions’ ability to negotiate on their own. The organization has gone to great lengths to protect its revenues; for example, in 1977 when the IRS threatened to start taxing institutions on sports revenues because they lacked relevance to higher education, the NCAA and its members rallied to protect their coffers, contacting high ranking members in Congress, such as Bob Dole, Tip O’Neil, and Ted Kennedy, who pressured the IRS to drop the case (Sack & Staurowsky, 1998, pp. 106–109).

These initial tensions, between player welfare, education, and revenue, would shape the NCAA as it grew into one of the most far-reaching and powerful sports ←2 | 3→associations in the world. Its critics charge that since its inception, the NCAA’s efforts have been directed at creating a public image that contradicts its operational realities rather. Despite a stated interest in education and athlete welfare, Shulman and Bowen (2001) contend that the NCAA is actually a collection of high-powered individuals more interested in creating an “industry” than in the educational achievement of students (pp. 291–292). For example, Dealy (1990) points out that the NCAA’s reliance on “home rule,” which in the early years allowed programs to govern themselves, fed a corrupt environment that was so revenue-focused it was detrimental to student health, citing the tragic death of Loyola-Marymount’s Hank Gathers as an example (p. 24). Such contradictions are often manifested in the inconsistencies between NCAA’s public statements and their public actions. Crowley (2006) lists a number of legal cases demonstrating where NCAA regulations ran afoul of state and federal laws designed to protect students and state employees from exploitation (pp. 170–172). These cases, as well as others, reveal the NCAA to be an organization with juxtaposing values engaged in a constant effort to manage its contradictory actions with public affirmations of egalitarian sentiments.

The big bang for the organization’s creation produced a delicate balance between student-athlete physical, social, and academic well-being, and revenue protection, and that tension has shaped the NCAA’s public discourse ever since. One could argue that the NCAA’s public discourse is perpetually employed to manage these inconsistencies to the point that it defines the organization’s substance. Oriard (2009) writes that the NCAA’s “history has been marked by a series of academic and ethical crises, set against a backdrop of increasing commercialization, with NCAA and university leaders dealing with the crises as if they were unrelated to the commercialization, which in fact has been an underlying factor” (p. 127). Watterson (2000) agrees, noting that the NCAA’s essence is mostly a PR exercise, as it works to appear as the “knight in shining armor, acting for the good of college athletics” (p. 284). The problem with their efforts is that they’re fairly ineffective. Gerdy (2006) cites a 2002 study showing that the majority of the public does not believe education, the core of the NCAA’s stated mission, is a primary component of its mission (p. 20). In sum, despite the NCAA’s best efforts, their public discourse struggles to manage these contradictions in a satisfactory manner.

Part of the NCAA’s problem is that the tensions between its stated mission and the reality of its practices are played out publicly. According to the organization’s first constitution, the NCAA’s stated mission was to ensure that intercollegiate athletics “be maintained on an ethical plane in keeping with the dignity and high purpose of education” (Falla, 1981, p. 21). The organization infused its language with terminologies that emphasized academic and educational achievement, imbuing them with a noble purity. Early on, the organization published a code of ethical conduct that included high-minded language emphasizing that its ←3 | 4→participants should strive to represent such ideas in their push toward athletic and academic achievement. The NCAA’s initial definition of an amateur was an athlete “who participates in competitive physical sports only for the pleasure and the physical, mental, moral and social benefits directly derived therefrom” (Falla, 1981, p. 52). For the NCAA, Weissberg (1995) writes, “The ideal is for the student-athlete to learn valuable lessons from sports—such as teamwork, competition, and sacrificing for a shared goal—and to implement these lessons in a life outside of athletics after graduation” (p. 22).

The problem for the NCAA is that despite its century-plus existence it has yet to find a level footing on which these two pillars may rest. Its member institutions have a long history of sacrificing the former for the latter. In 1906 Michigan football coach Fielding Yost got into a public dispute with university President James Angell over athletic funding, and the trustees voted to support Yost over the President and increase athletic funding at the expense of academic programs (Byers, 1995, pp. 37–38). Sixty years later over 330 student-athletes at the University of Southern California were admitted, despite being “scholastically deficient,” and were kept eligible through fake courses, and football players at the University of Georgia were found to be adept in advanced courses close to a bowl game after failing the remedial prerequisites the semester before (Oriard, 2009, p. 146). Twenty years after that, UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian took his team on a tour of the South Pacific for 16 days for which they received six hours of credit for a course titled Contemporary Issues in Social Welfare; surprisingly it was open only to basketball players and provided half the credits needed to stay eligible for a season (Byers, 1995, p. 308). These are but a few examples of the scandals that persist despite the NCAA’s oversight.

When academics and athletics clash, the NCAA’s rulings are erratic at best. In some cases the NCAA takes a hard line, such as their denial of eligibility for Iowa State’s Tracy Graham for taking the ACT on an unapproved date, but in others the punishments are mostly nonexistent, such as the number of athletes who received money or assistance from agents and coaches who were either able to repay the cash or were only suspended a few games (Weissberg, 1995, pp. 30–31). Other cases show a similar disparity. Football player Eric Ramsey recorded Auburn University coaches offering him cash and gifts, major NCAA violations, but the university only received a bowl game ban and lost a few scholarships, hardly in line with the egregious nature of the violation (Weissberg, 1995, p. 55). Even more extreme was Dexter Manley’s case. Manley testified before the Senate that despite four years at Oklahoma State as a student-athlete he was illiterate, with his academic advisor testifying on his behalf regarding the disinterest of the coaches, one of the most excessive infractions of the NCAA’s stated mission, yet the university only faced four years of probation, which passed quietly (Oriard, 2009, p. 205). Such cases demonstrate that when the NCAA’s academic idealism clashes with ←4 | 5→economic realities, the resulting punishments reveal a concern with the latter over the former.

The problem these cases demonstrate is that the NCAA’s stated mission, while honorable, runs counter to its practices. Most often this is manifested in inconsistencies between the amateur status of its participants and the policies that protect its revenue streams. Sack and Staurowsky (1998) write, “many of that Organization’s actions, especially after 1948, can be best understood as rearguard accommodations to professionalism rather than efforts to preserve amateur ideals” (p. 32). Most of this work is accomplished by the NCAA’s insistence to the athlete’s amateur status. The NCAA wields the amateur label deftly, using it as a bulwark against any incursions on the revenues that the student-athletes generate. Gurney, Lopiano, and Zimbalist (2017) point out that the NCAA’s definition of amateurs and amateurism is simply “words of convenience” used to protect institutions rather than uphold noble values (p. 12). The rules for earning revenues as a student-athlete are needlessly complex: some sports have no restrictions as to how many student-athletes can work at summer camps, a common way for coaches to help out players who may not be able to work due to NCAA regulations, while others, soccer for instance, have hard caps. There are also a number of regulations that allow institutions to withdraw financial aid from athletes that are designed to protect universities from workers compensation cases rather than empower the student-athletes’ academic and athletic well-being. When challenged, the NCAA has been strident it its defense of the amateur rule, asserting that it was “best for the students” and an integral ingredient of “highly principled athletics,” but one should note that these defenses increased at the same rate as the economic impact of football and fears that institutions would lose their players to the NFL (Falla, 1981, p. 129). In sum, Byers (1995) asserts that amateurism serves as “economic camouflage for monopoly practice,” concluding that it is essentially “economic tyranny” (pp. 376, 347). In the end, the NCAA appears to be a body insisting that its participants follow a value system that it eschews at every turn.

Much of the organization’s inconsistency is wrapped up in its central term: the student-athlete. This term serves as a synecdoche for the NCAA, summing up their essence in a single rhetorical device (Milford, 2013, p. 285). Its roots are in obfuscation, as it was purposefully manufactured to prevent the use of “employee” to describe collegiate athletes for financial purposes (Byers, 1995, p. 69). Its companion term, “scholarship,” as in an award for athletic performance, was another critical term in the NCAA lexicon designed to maintain its insistence that participants weren’t paid, and thus weren’t employees (Oriard, 2009, p. 130). These two terms, “student-athlete” and “scholarship,” are the rhetorical DNA of the NCAA’s dual nature; admirable on the surface, complicated and convoluted in practice.

Their development stems from two tragic cases that expose the discrepancies between the NCAA’s purposes and practices. The first was a lawsuit from the ←5 | 6→family of Gary Van Horn, a football player at Cal Poly who died in a tragic plane crash on the way back from a game in 1960. The family sought death benefits on the assertion that Van Horn was representing the university as an employee of the state at the time of his death (Oriard, 2009, p. 134). In 1963 the state ruled for the family, citing that the terms of his scholarship stipulated that he had to be a member of an athletic team, which the court reasoned was analogous to any other student who worked on campus for the school. The NCAA, fearing that the court’s ruling could set a precedent that as employees, athletes could unionize, argue for wages, and seek improved working conditions, immediately consulted with tort law experts who helped him revise grant-in-aid terminology to avert any sort of future unionization by athletes. As Sack and Staurowsky (1998) summarize, “To avoid the appearance of employment … the NCAA memorandum recommended that universities delete such language and instead refer to sections of the NCAA constitution that explicitly state that athletic scholarships do not constitute payment or compensation for participation” (p. 82).

The second was a similar case that forced the NCAA’s hypocritical hand. In 1976 Indiana State football player Fred Rensing was paralyzed during practice. The NCAA’s case hinged on whether or not players signed a “contract for hire,” which would entitle them to compensation in the case of injury or death (Sack & Staurowsky, 1998, p. 85). Ultimately, it was decided that a scholarship was not pay, in a legal sense, because if it were Rensing would have declared it on his taxes as income, which he did not. This time the NCAA won an important victory as the court agreed with the organization that athletes were not entitled to the same financial obligations given to state employees. Sack & Staurowsky (1998) go on to provide a number of examples of legal decisions that have emboldened the NCAA to entrench its amateurism rules in the face of conflicting legal protections for state employees, for example a case involving a Western Michigan player that conclusively proved that NCAA athletes were employees only to have the court ignore his legal justifications and label sport as recreation instead of employment, but it was these two cases, Van Horn’s and Rensing’s, that ratified the central terms NCAA’s vocabulary (pp. 87–91). Recent cases outlined by Reed (2015) highlight ongoing tensions in the NCAA’s use of the vagaries of the student-athlete moniker, including FERPA and HIPAA violations, Keller vs. Electronic Arts, Inc, and the high-profile O’Bannon vs. NCAA case. Similarly, Fortunato (2019) showed how the NCAA’s 2017 Commission on College Basketball, convened in the aftermath of the FBI investigation into corruption and fraud by coaches, produced much in the way of image management but little in the way of meaningful change to the financial structure that limits student-athlete earning opportunities. In each case the NCAA and member institutions worked to protect their bottom lines at the expense of student-athlete rights to privacy.

←6 | 7→

The purpose of this project is to explore how an organization like the NCAA manages such conflicts, particularly the strategic choices it makes and the impacts those choices have on its constituents and audiences. Our goal in collating these studies is to provide a multi-methodological look at how the NCAA balances its contradictions. To that end, we solicited analyses from some of the top scholars in the field of communication and sport and asked them to consider the contradictory messages of the NCAA from their own theoretical and methodological perspectives. The resulting volume provides a broad view of the field, considering the contradictory nature of collegiate athletics on a macro and micro-level, and everywhere in between.

The first section of the book examines the field of play when it comes to the NCAA. In the first chapter Lauren Reichart Smith and Mike Milford consider how the NCAA is uniquely situated as an organizational body, and as such it faces a distinctive set of obligations from a communication perspective. The incredible scope of its governance means that it must manage broad organizational communication tasks while also maintaining a public image that keeps audiences engaged. At the same time, it is tasked with legislating the minutiae of collegiate athletics, meaning that its rules and regulations play a prominent role in the ability of its constituents to interact with others on a public and personal level. This chapter provides an overview of the NCAA as a communication phenomenon, particularly the ways in which its nature creates an uncommon environment in which public and private discourse is managed in meaningful ways.

In the second chapter Lauren Reichart Smith considers the current state of collegiate athletics as it pertains to the NCAA’s central term, the student-athlete, particularly the tensions between participants, institutions, and the stakeholders. The NCAA rarely specifically defines what a student-athlete is, yet the organization spends significant time promoting the value of being a student-athlete, as well as a substantial amount of energy explaining exactly how the student-athlete must act, primarily off the field, and explicitly outlining the guidelines for amateurism. This chapter provides a foundation for critiques by examining the boundaries and barriers faced by the student-athlete ways in which those are enforced in public and private discourse. By clarifying the attendant policies and practices that surround the NCAA, readers will have a better understanding as to how communicators in college athletics manage tensions between the policies and procedures that define the field, and the practices and expectations that shape its public identity.

In the second section we turn to considerations of the mythos of the student-athlete, particularly the clash between the organization’s idealistic notions of amateurism and its practical concerns regarding revenue. In the third chapter, Karen Hartman takes a critical look at the events surrounding the genesis of the NCAA, particularly the ways in which the fledgling organization worked to reconcile conflicting messages and value systems in an effort to protect its product. ←7 | 8→Hartman analyzes the rhetoric surrounding the creation of the NCAA and the mythos of the student-athlete, specifically through President Roosevelt’s letters and public comments, to argue that the organization’s constitutive rhetoric created a framework for contradictory perceptions of student-athletes that still exist today. The aforementioned genesis of the NCAA was a combination of concerns for player safety and economic viability. Her analysis shows how this debate played out in popular audiences. Newspapers, university presidents, and Theodore Roosevelt wove reason and rationales around one another in an attempt to balance these two realities. In the end, it led to the creation of the NCAA, which was and still is tasked with managing the conflicting values that stem from these initial arguments.

From there, Greg Cranmer and Karlee Posteher consider the ways in which contemporary student-athletes manage these tensions in conflicting organization and interpersonal messages. Cranmer and Posteher take a hard look at how the NCAA’s paradoxical mythos of the student-athlete is exposed in practice with a focus on how coaches, media, and administrators address the responsibilities of student-athletes publicly in ways that conflict with private discourse and institutional obligations. They center on four themes: recruiting vs socializing, which explores how recruiting practices and inflated organizational expectations impede the athletes’ adjustments to social groups; educating vs training, which examines the impacts of public discussions of student-athlete expectations in terms of education and athletic obligations; developing vs winning, which considers how the emphasis on winning detracts from the development of student-athletes; and amateurizing vs professionalizing, which delves into the inconsistencies between organizational messages of amateurism and organizational practices of professionalism.

In the next chapter Travis Bell takes a broader look at the implications of the NCAA’s contradictory messages on education and athletics on the academics of its participants. His focus is on academic clustering which occurs when athletes are disproportionately segmented into a select few major programs when compared to the general student population. Bell argues that there is an underexamined limitation hidden under the guise of this widely circulated misnomer that repositions the individual as “athletic student.” He argues that the purposefully ambiguous student-athlete designation empowers institutions to continue the practice despite their stated values. Past research has found academic clustering within the Atlantic Coast Conference, across Division I conferences, and within one university in a longitudinal study. Bell extends that literature by exploring academic clustering in a Power 5 conference, with an eye on how clustering adversely impacts Black students in a greater proportion.

The third section turns from the student-athlete to the organization, considering how the organization enacts authority and control in collegiate athletics. This section begins with Jimmy Sanderson’s examination of the NCAA’s social media ←8 | 9→practices, which he contends are rife with contradictions. On one hand, social media is an integral marketing tool and the NCAA makes liberal use of it to promote its brand. But, on the other hand, in order to protect that image student-athletes face considerable restrictions on their ability to use social media. Sanderson explores these communicative contradictions through externalization of risk, by illustrating how communication functions as an organizational risk-management tool. Sanderson also draws on sport and commodification literature to reflect how these communication practices are put in place with an eye on their impact on the larger, commodified college athletics enterprise. This mixed messaging highlights a major contradiction within the NCAA, which is underpinned by concerns about risk and economic viability.

The seventh chapter is an insightful analysis by Angela Jerome on how the NCAA’s challengers may structure their calls for change. The NCAA’s myriad sins often produce pushback from rhetors who seek to revise the organization to bring its practices more in line with its stated values. Most often their calls for improvements are drowned out by economic forces that drive the NCAA’s product. However, recently critics have found modes of discourse that have seemingly produced meaningful changes in the NCAA’s actions. Jerome demonstrates how charges of absurdity and ridicule levied against the NCAA by critics from 2010–2014 chained out to force sweeping changes to NCAA policies. Specifically, Jerome illustrates how organizational arguments, built on premises that conflicted with the core values of key audiences, opened the rhetorical space for organizational critics to compel change.

At the other end of that spectrum, Mike Milford considers how the NCAA publicly asserts its authority over wayward members by examining the benchmark Penn State scandal of 2011. Their rhetoric was strident in its condemnation of Penn State’s handling of the Sandusky issue, and their punishments promised sweeping changes for the ways in which the organization handled issues such as these. However, a careful examination of the organization’s rhetoric shows less concern for correcting the policies that enabled the crimes than it did on solidifying the NCAA’s power over its member institutions. Kenneth Burke states that scapegoating, blaming another in an effort to wash away one’s own deficiencies, is performed by a priesthood, a group set apart by the community to enact such rituals. Milford’s analysis of the Penn State case shows that the NCAA used scapegoating to demonstrate its power over the community and warn other members to acquiesce to its authority.

The fourth section examines the conflicting value systems in collegiate athletics, particularly the ways the NCAA works with, for, and against student-athletes and their interests. In the first chapter in this section, Joseph Blaney considers one of the NCAA’s points of emphasis, that athletic departments are an economic boon to member institutions. The organization champions stories of programs ←9 | 10→that enhance the university experience by generating increased enrollment and attendance. However, the rising costs of tuition coupled with incredible raises and fund-raising campaigns for athletic scholarships, coaches, administrators, and facilities has worn that argument thin. Virtually all colleges and universities have struggled with the need to increase revenue streams via tuition increases. These increases must be balanced by a concern for remaining competitively priced in an increasingly competitive market for college enrollees. Blaney examines how attention placed on college athletics may be used to mitigate the damage of tuition increases for attendant audiences with an eye on understanding how such announcements can function as image repair strategies in contradictory messaging.


XII, 286
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XII, 286 pp., 2 b/w ill., 8 tables.

Biographical notes

Mike Milford (Volume editor) Lauren Reichart Smith (Volume editor)

Mike Milford (Ph.D., University of Kansas) is Associate Professor at Auburn University. He researches ideological messages in popular culture and sports. His research has appeared in a number of international journals and sport and political anthologies. Lauren Reichart Smith (Ph.D., University of Alabama) is Assistant Professor at Indiana University. She studies the intersection between sports, mass media, and social media. Her research has appeared in a number of national and international journals.


Title: Communication and Contradiction in the NCAA