This is not an April Fool's story. A Wall Street Journal reporter has staked his reputation on that fact, so bear that in mind. This is real.
As civil disobedience protests go, Wall Street Journal reporter Jason Gay admits his decision to bring a cat mug to the floor of an NCAA game wasn't exactly a world-shattering act of defiance. But of such small, absurd gestures are foundations rattled. Or, at least, laughed at.
The scene: Madison Square Garden, site of Sunday's epic Elite Eight showdown between Connecticut and Michigan State. Gay, who was covering the game, decided to tweak the NCAA's longstanding rule banning non-permitted cups from courtside:
NCAA has very strict rules for NCAA-only cups at March Madness. I have brought my cat mug. Stay tuned. pic.twitter.com/jEi3Q0e6ry— Jason Gay (@jasonWSJ) March 30, 2014
"I was not innocently wandering into the Garden with a cat mug," Gay said. "I felt the NCAA cup rule was pretty funny, and a bit ridiculous, so I wanted to wage a tiny protest against the NCAA by bringing my kitty cat beverage holder to the game. I knew it was against NCAA regulations, and I also knew that my credential to cover the game was based upon my agreeing to adhere to NCAA policy. Rules are rules, and if you're going to go to somebody's game, you have to play by the host's rules. Still: It was a cat mug. And who doesn't love a cat mug?"
The NCAA, apparently. With only a few minutes left in the game, an NCAA staffer visited Gay at courtside, and after some initial banter, requested that Gay surrender the 11-cat mug. An observer at the scene told Yahoo Sports that the NCAA staffer's demeanor was amiable, but indicated there was no mistaking the staffer's implication about the possible loss of the Wall Street Journal's Final Four credentials.
Gay had a vision of taking a stand, of saying, "I refuse to give you this cat mug, because this cat mug is a protest of what I see as the hypocrisy of big-time college athletics in this country, where an urge to reap every possible dollar has undermined a beautiful endeavor. And even if it means spending the rest of my life in NCAA jail, being forced to watch replays of the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, you will never get my cat mug." But he relented, and handed over the mug. (He got it back after the game.)
On one hand, this is a perfectly defensible policy; certain drink companies pay large sums of money to be the official beverage products of the NCAA, and expect to have a certain exclusivity with that money. On the other hand, nobody tunes in to the NCAA tournament to see cups, the reporters who drink from them, or the staffers who enforce uniformity. Everyone tunes in to see the players, who do not receive any of the aforementioned large sums of money involved in the tournament, from drink companies or anyone else. (Yahoo Sports has reached out to the NCAA for comment.)
The lesson, then, is obvious. Don't bring your cat mugs anywhere near the NCAA. Of course, you could write FREE THE CAT MUG 11 on your blue cup and probably be just fine.