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Wednesday, February 16, 2011
FIU takes protecting its star player too far

By Amanda Rykoff

Wednesday afternoon, Florida International University star shortstop Garrett Wittels participated in a press conference to discuss the upcoming baseball season. The new season is a big deal because the preseason All-American has a remarkable 56-game hitting streak, the longest in the country and just two games shy of the all-time NCAA record held by Robin Ventura. Wittels was no doubt eager to discuss the hitting streak and his team's season opener on Friday.

What Wittels does not want to discuss is his offseason. Why not? Because the junior was arrested and charged with the rape of a 17-year-old girl in the Bahamas on Dec. 20, 2010. Wittels, through his father Michael, has proclaimed his innocence and of course remains innocent until proven guilty.

Yes, the media attending today's press conference wanted to talk about Wittels' pursuit of the NCAA-record hitting streak and his team's defense of last season's Sun Belt Conference title. But just as important to many is the offseason arrest. It's a big story, and the conference was the press' first opportunity to hear from the shortstop on the subject. Or so it thought. Florida International's athletic department took the topic off the table when it issued the following release to members of the media on Feb. 10:

**Please be advised that all coaches, players and FIU personnel will ONLY answer questions pertaining to BASEBALL and BASEBALL related activities. Due to the ongoing investigation, if any questions are asked regarding Garrett Wittels' legal matter, not only will the question not be addressed, but the press conference will end immediately. If you do not intend to cover the on-field activities of the FIU Baseball team, please do not attend. Failure to abide by this policy may result in your and your outlets credentials being revoked for the 2011 FIU Baseball season.**

What? Surely Wittels could decline to answer questions. He could easily say "no comment" or could even provide a basic statement that his lawyers have approved. But to take preemptive action to ban all questions and threaten to terminate the press conference immediately and, more egregiously, threaten to revoke the outlet's credentials for the season because of a question about the rape allegations? That is ridiculous. Not to mention that it's baffling that a player charged with a felony is even allowed to play.

It's understandable that Florida International wants to protect its star player. But if the school doesn't want him answering questions about the offseason, it shouldn't make him available to the media. Simple as that. To prohibit questions about Wittels' legal matter and threaten revocation of credentials is not the way to handle this situation.

Note: ESPN's family of networks will broadcast every pitch of FlU's season-opening series against Southeastern Louisiana from Feb. 18-20. The first two games will appear on ESPN3.com. The finale -- the game in which Wittels could break the Division I record -- will be televised on ESPNU.