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Communication and Contradiction in the NCAA

An Unlevel Playing Field

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Edited By Mike Milford and Lauren Reichart Smith

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.

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.