Thursday, August 19, 2010
No easy solution for Nebraska media ban
By ESPN.com staff
Bo Pelini isn't the first coach to close media access to his team. He won't be the last.
Coaches have done it for worse reasons. They've done it for less severe reasons. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy imposed a 12-day ban last year's preseason in part because he felt questions were getting too repetitive and his team overexposed.
But solving the problem for Pelini, who has expressed difficulties in dealing with the media in the past, won't be easy.
The reason for Pelini's three-day ban beginning Wednesday was a distaste for the way the media handled recent injuries to linebacker Sean Fisher (broken leg, out for season) and backup cornerback Anthony Blue (torn ACL).
A witness to practice posted an account of the injuries on a Nebraska message board, which began a rumor (that, it's worth noting, was true) that the local media was forced to confirm.
"The kid was still on the [operating] table last night, and people were calling the family," Pelini told the Associated Press on Wednesday night. "That's crossing the line."
That's fair, but it's unrealistic in today's world for Pelini to believe the press will sit on its hands while he deals with an injury on his time, however serious. If he had concerns, a simple press release stating that injuries had occurred, but the details were still being assessed would have sufficed. Then cap it with a one-sentence request to respect the privacy of those close to the injured players. The earlier its release, the better, as long as families were contacted first.
The concerns from those inside the program are addressed, and the information is enough for those who cover the program to do their jobs, while also understanding exactly why more information isn't being released. That transparency wasn't present on Wednesday, and you can't blame reporters for trying to confirm a rumor that would have major impact on the team they cover.
"I don't want this place to be Fort Knox," Pelini said. "That's not my nature."
Making Lincoln like Fort Knox is an option Pelini can pick and one others have chosen for their respective programs. Bill Snyder at Kansas State is infamous for his lack of information in regards to his own team's injuries. That's how he's going to operate and that's his right. It's understood; the local media deals with it. That strategy probably isn't best for Nebraska, a program with greater success, tradition and more rabid interest. But if Pelini doesn't want his program to be run that way, don't go into lockdown mode as a form of retribution for breaking his rules and issue the press release the program did on Wednesday morning:
"There will be no media access following practices today, Thursday and Friday. Coach Pelini will address the media after Saturday’s practice. There is also no media access before practice for the remainder of the week. Thanks," team spokesman Keith Mann wrote.
That escalates the situation. It's only going to make the press dig deeper, while delivering some information eliminates the unnecessary mystery and squelches the main problem Pelini expressed after imposing the ban.
Moving forward, changes will have to be made if the two parties don't want to end up in the same situation the next time some "friend of the program" blabs on a message board about a player being taken off on a stretcher.
Pelini also doesn't want the media taking inventory of who is injured in the 15 minutes of warmups and light drills the media are allowed to see.
That's reasonable. But so is ending that practice with, in return, some expectation for at least a little transparency when it comes to information about who's suiting up and who isn't.
Toeing that line carefully and with open communication would benefit both parties.