Copyright 2017 The Deseret News Publishing Co.
Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)
I was once invited to take a tour deep into the inner sanctums of the Pentagon by a family member who worked there. I had to provide credentials and was thoroughly vetted months in advance. I had to pass through layer upon layer of security as I moved deeper into the building. I was escorted everywhere I went. It was serious business.
In other words, it was a lot like covering college football these days, except it was easier.
With increasing frequency, football coaches are dictating much of the way journalists do their jobs. During fall camp, reporters, escorted and monitored by school officials as they venture into the football facilities, are on a short leash. They are told where they can go, whom they can talk to, how long they can talk to them, and what they are allowed to write, tell or show. They would write our stories for us, if we let them (mine is up for grabs to the highest bidder).
Paranoia is running wild in college football; they're circling the wagons.
And yet, to be fair, some of it is actually understandable.
Notre Dame presented the following restrictions on reporters this year: They cannot tweet or use any social media until practice is finished and/or the coach has met with media; they cannot release more than three minutes of video per day and only "tight" shots are allowed (they cannot show multiple players, formations or specific plays); they cannot report injuries until the school has released the information; they cannot quote or paraphrase comments made by coaches during practice; they must stand at attention and ask for permission to use the bathroom.
I might have made up the last one.
Many other schools have adopted variations on the theme. LSU announced this year that preseason football camp would be closed to the media and public. (To which, I say, THANK YOU. It has become a pointless exercise anyway, given the restrictions.)
Utah bans live reports "of any type" from practice. The Utes grant 10 minutes to interview players after practice, "starting when they come off the field," which means reporters must perform interviews as fast as an auctioneer. Reporters can observe only the final 20 minutes of select practices - wind sprints, it often turns out. The Utes are among those teams that won't let some players talk to the media, usually because they've been in trouble.
BYU banned reporters from all but the final 30 minutes of practice during fall camp and years ago adopted many of the prohibitions above. Under Bronco Mendenhall, who sucked the fun out of everything, BYU was ahead of its time in terms of circling the wagons.
Bobby Bowden believed it was good for players to deal with the media - to express themselves and speak publicly - but a new generation of coaches believes otherwise.
On the other hand, it's easy to criticize the coaches and their schools for overreaching - and some of them are - but it's not quite that simple.
"I don't think most coaches would have envisioned implementing these kinds of media restrictions in the past," says Liz Abel, Utah's longtime sports information director. "The advent of social media and multiple websites and blogs covering college athletics has totally changed the landscape."
This has brought a herd of untrained journalists to the sideline. Anyone with a blog or Twitter account can request credentials and act like a reporter. Journalism is not rocket science, but there are a number of inviolable do's and don'ts these newcomers don't always understand. Their primary interest is speed. They see something at practice and they instantly tweet it without checking the facts (things not always being as they appear). And then the mainstream media feels a need to keep up with this nonsense and the tweeting grows from there.
Then there's this: Some of them have tweeted and photographed specific plays - including trick plays - and other teams' tactical secrets. You don't need a journalism degree to know that violates the trust of the coaches, but common sense helps.
"There are new people every day, so there isn't the relationship between reporters and coaches anymore," says one observer.
Why not deny credentials to this group? Abel explains: "We have no way to establish who is a 'trained' journalist, and a past court ruling on the topic doesn't allow us to tell someone they aren't a 'real' media outlet."
So there it is: Coaches, who already have paranoid tendencies, have clamped down on the media (the electronic age probably provided a convenient excuse for some coaches who wanted to control the media a long time ago). Some of the schools have their own PR department hammering out stories and putting their spin on things, which means someday they might simply spoon feed the media and deny access entirely, thus doing away with honest, objective reporting.
It's a dramatic and relatively sudden change in the game's relationship to the media. Reporters used to ride around the practice field with LaVell Edwards in his golf cart to pick his brain about the team. It was casual, laid-back and open. Reporters could get to know the players and coaches and tell stories in a way that Twitter can't match.
Those days are gone.
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