This may shock you, given its mission as a nonprofit devoted to the needs of its student-athletes, but the NCAA will fucking cut you if you threaten its corporate sponsorships. Those extend even to the drinking vessels used by media sitting courtside for tournament games. One intrepid Wall Street Journal reporter decided to strike a blow for unbranded sanity, and brought a cat mug to Sunday's regional final at MSG. Between the reporter and the mug, only one got out alive.
As part of a reported $50-million-a-year deal with parent company Coca-Cola, Powerade is the exclusive and official beverage of the NCAA. That means that everywhere in the building, even on press row, only branded Powerade paper cups are allowed. (Note that the print reporters sit on the near side of the court, so this isn't about the cups showing up on TV. But everyone knows impressionable kids in the stands want nothing more than to be sportswriters, and to drink the same flavored sports drink that their media role models use to hydrate between buffet trips.)
The NCAA is serious about this:
Jason Gay admits he brought his cat mug as a protest, one small, silent gesture standing up to corporate synergy run amok. He was prepared to suffer for his cause, but held out hope that reason would carry the day: "Who doesn't love a cat mug?"
The cat mug went unmolested for most of the game, a fantastic and close slugfest between UConn and Michigan State. And then, with about four minutes left, when every person in a pulse was completely caught up in the action on the court, a staffer wandered over.
I was asked if the Journal intended to cover the Final Four next weekend, and I said that, yes, I believed the Journal intended to cover the Final Four. I still was hanging onto the idea that this whole thing was a joke. Then the cat mug was requested. As in, they wanted the cat mug.
The cat mug was whisked away to an undisclosed location, and god only knows what indignities were visited upon it. Cats were nowhere to be found courtside as the Huskies punched their ticket to the Final Four, but there was one more Powerade logo in a sea of neon blue, and all was right with the corporate universe.
The cat mug was returned to Gay after the game. Come at the NCAA, cat mug, and you better not miss.
The NCAA Took Away My Cat Mug [Wall Street Journal]
Photos by Jason Gay