I’m joining the Jay Bilas fan club. The ESPN basketball analyst and former Duke star has gained a reputation as an outspoken critic of the NCAA, calling out the tone deaf organization on a regular basis, most notably for the financial exploitation of its student athletes. Of course, this is something the NCAA vehemently denies, as they would never, ever, not for all the oil and gas under the Bakken, profit off their student athletes.
Bilas, who is also a lawyer for the Charlotte firm Moore and VanAllen, had the audacity to call out the NCAA’s hypocrisy last August when he posted several screen shots to his Twitter of what happened when you typed “Johnny Manziel” into the search box of ShopNCAASports.com. You can guess what happened next. The NCAA looked awfully silly when pages of Manziel’s No. 2 Texas A&M jersey started filling the screen, particularly considering the NCAA’s long-held position that sales of jerseys were unrelated to specific players. The tweets were especially ill-timed for the NCAA as they are embroiled in a class action lawsuit filed by several former college athletes, including UCLA’s Ed O’Bannon, the 1995 National Player of the Year, over the use of athletes’ names, images and likenesses.
Well, Jay, I’ve got another one for you. Voter disenfranchisement. As if the NCAA didn’t have their hands full already, they decided to get into territory typically reserved for Eastern European elections circa the Cold War. The marketing wizards at the NCAA came up with a good idea, a “6th Fan” contest. The contest pitted schools against each other in a Twitter and online voting battle at 6thfan.ncaa.com. Even the NCAA couldn’t screw up something so simple. Whichever school voted the most at the website or tweeted #6thFan kept advancing toward the $100,000 grand prize to be used for athletic scholarships. The competition reached the Elite 8 with North Dakota State locked in a quarterfinal battle with Brigham Young University before all hell broke loose.
The Elite 8 voting culminated last tonight with BYU holding a commanding 78 – 22 lead over NDSU shortly before the polls closed. The funny thing is the two schools were locked in a nail-biter all week. One minute NDSU would take a 51 – 49 lead, the next minute BYU would take the same narrow lead. Back and forth, the schools jostled all week, the lead changing hands several times each day. All over Twitter, Bison fans were abuzz with #6thFan and #NDST. Even North Dakota native and all-around good guy Josh Duhamel got in on it, tweeting Saturday: “Let’s help @NDSU win $100k for scholarships by voting at6thfan.ncaa.com. You can win stuff too. #NDST #NCAA #6thFan #Bison.”
This election contest looked like it would go down to the wire on Sunday night. Great for NDSU and BYU, good publicity for the NCAA, and a win for democratic and freedom loving fans nationwide. So what happened from taking this to a battle decided at the polls to a BYU coronation? There isn’t a 56-point swing overnight at the ballot box without some nefarious doings, not in our country. Hanging chads? Nope, Katherine Harris, the former Florida Secretary of State, wasn’t running this show for the NCAA. Dead people voting? Negatory, good buddy. Former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley himself passed to that great battleground in the sky in 1976. It must have been Diebold, the voting machine manufacturer charged by federal prosecutors in Ohio last October with bribing government officials and falsifying documents in China, Indonesia and Russia. Sorry, even the NCAA knows better than to use Diebold machines.
By process of elimination, that leaves some cyber shenanigans orchestrated from Salt Lake City responsible for the rigged 6th Fan election. Surely, the good folks at BYU hacked the NCAA computers and abracadabra, deleted hundreds of thousands of Bison votes faster than a data breach at Target. Mystery solved, right? We can file a grievance with the NCAA and demand a recount. If only. Sometime on Saturday, the autocrats in Indianapolis running the NCAA exercised their iron fist and peanut craniums, deciding to throw out hundreds of thousands, if not more, NDSU votes. The explanation offered on the NCAA website accused NDSU, by implication, of using fake e-mail accounts to pile on the vote. The only problem, the 6th Fan contest didn’t require an e-mail address to vote.
The 6th Fan contest has now taken on the farce of an election brokered by the Kremlin with the winner having all the legitimacy of a propped up puppet. Even if a few e-mails were stuffing the box, which again is perplexing because you didn’t need to enter an e-mail to vote in the contest, hats off to the NCAA for having a security system in place to guard against such high-tech vote tampering tactics straight from the days of DOS and Windows 97. Good thing, too, because the NCAA has already awarded $160,000 in the contest prizes and another $100,000 is still at stake.
NDSU fans demand a recount. And Jay, we could certainly use your bully pulpit to call out the NCAA for this. I can promise that if you help us, every NDSU fan who voted in the 6th Fan contest will follow you on Twitter – and remember, Josh Duhamel voted for us. If the NCAA is right, so did a few million others from fake e-mail addresses. We could make you the king of Twitter, Jay. So long as the NCAA doesn’t take that away from us too.