Making Sense of the Media
12:48 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Making Sense of the NCAA Cat Mug Confiscation

Credit Jason Gay

The tweet from Wall Street Journal reporter Jason Gay  -- sent from a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament game at Madison Square Garden -- read as follows:

"NCAA has very strict rules for NCAA-only cups at March Madness. I have brought my cat mug. Stay tuned."

He tweeted a picture with his cat mug next to a sign saying "Only NCAA cups allowed beyond this point."

With four minutes left in the game, an NCAA official approached the press table and confiscated the cat mug.

Gay had poked the bear and the bear responded and Gay had the makings of a much-shared column about the absurdity of NCAA rules -- especially when it comes to guarding its lucrative trademark and the trademarks of it's sponsors.

Sure, it's a silly little story, but Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project" says it's about something very important to the NCAA.

"Money. It's mostly about money," she explained. "The NCAA has a contract with Powerade and they would prefer that only Powerade products be seen on the sidelines. Rather than saying that, though, they say we get to control all the drink containers. And in this case it led to a pretty cute column that went viral."

But is it a cute little column that tells a bigger story about how the NCAA operates?

"The fact that the NCAA has a set of rules they enforce with rigid absurdity... we talk about this all the time when we talk about what college athletes can do and can't do. So I don't think that was a dramatic revelation to the public," McBride explained. "But I think this was a nice little example of how crazy the NCAA can be."

And carried to its illogical extreme, it could get crazier in the future.

"What if they required that journalists have certain computers or cameras," asked McBride. "You know, Nikon over Canon or Apple over Toshiba? That would be a bit obnoxious but it's not outside of reality for the NCAA."