'GameDay' ban on political signs at Homecoming raises First Amendment questions

Thursday, October 21, 2010 | 8:23 p.m. CDT; updated 5:59 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 18, 2010

COLUMBIA—Signs are a familiar characteristic of ESPN’s College GameDay, but not all signs are welcome.

“We ask political signs not be displayed, and that’s just part of our company policy,” said ESPN spokesman Mike Humes. “It has nothing to do with the school."

The ban on politically influenced signs raised questions about First Amendment rights on a state university campus. Carl Esbeck, MU law professor, said that just because the university is bound by the First Amendment, it doesn’t mean ESPN is.

“Francis Quadrangle is, as a general rule, a limited public forum,” Esbeck said. “But when the university sets aside that property for use during special events, that public forum can be shut down.”

Esbeck said the main question that should be asked is who enforces the rule.

Christian Basi, associate director of the MU News Bureau, said ESPN will monitor the signs at the GameDay event.

“ESPN has total control over signage in the pit,” Basi said. “It’s their television show and their production.”

In addition to the sign rules, there are also questions regarding how many people will be admitted into the GameDay “half circle,” the backstage area that will be on camera during the show. 

“Whoever gets there early will get to go inside the half circle,” Humes said.

He said the exact number of visitors who will be admitted remains undetermined. Humes said “several hundred” would be allowed into the backstage area but that number could vary depending on how much room is available.

Basi said the university, in consultation with ESPN, decided what time students would be allowed to begin lining up.

“Since ESPN has been doing this for many years and have the experience, we are meeting with them and taking their advice on opening and running the event,” Basi said.

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Bill Fisher October 22, 2010 | 3:55 a.m.

*sigh* There really has to be a group out there complaining about 1st Amendment issues while everyone else is trying to have a good time this weekend??

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