Feb Madness: the NCAA, CBS, and Focus on the Family

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 2:30 PM EST

Just weeks after CBS came under fire for airing a pro-life Focus on the Family ad staring Heismann-Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow, the National Collegiate Athletic Association—CBS' broadcast partner for college men's basketball's upcoming March Madness tournament—is now taking heat for a FOF ad on NCAA.com, reports Inside Higher Ed's Doug Lederman. 

The ad featured an image of a grinning father holding his baby boy next to the words "Celebrate Family. Celebrate Life." Beneath the photo: "All I want for my son is for him to grow up knowing how to do the right thing." Though the message may seem benign at first, if you know anything about Focus on the Family and its mission, then its clear the "family" the ad references is a traditional, heterosexual one and the "right thing" the ficticious father hopes his son will come to understand is that women should not have abortions. Internet turmoil over the ad erupted Monday when professor-turned-blogger Pat Griffin first noticed it on NCAA's site. Other blogs and organizations that support gay and lesbian athletes picked up on Griffin's post, a Facebook group formed, and by midday Tuesday, the ad had been removed from the NCAA's site. Did the NCAA really not know what it was getting itself into after the fracas over Focus' Superbowl spot? It must have.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams told Chronicle of Higher Ed reporter Libby Sander that its officials work "closely" with CBS to approve and schedule online advertisements, "regularly" review the content of those ads, and "make adjustments as appropriate." And according to Lederman, the controversial Super Bowl ad and this NCAA.com ad are both part of a larger advertising deal struck between CBS and FOF which may mean more controversial commercials are to come during March Madness TV timeouts.

Pat Griffen nailed the crux of this problem on her blog: "The issue here is not the right of CBS, a for-profit organization, to set their own advertising standards around so-called 'advocacy' ads, even if we don’t like them. The issue is the involvement of the NCAA, a non-profit educational organization made up of hundreds of member institutions across the USA, allowing itself to be associated with advertising that is in contradiction to the NCAA’s own written standards and organizational mission." The NCAA's core values includes "an inclusive culture that fosters equitable participation for student-athletes" and "respect for philosophical differences," values that are compromised when it promotes advertisement of an organization like FOF.