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Thursday Morning Brews: Doolittle

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When do college programs go too far in restricting media access? Weigh in with Morning Brews

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Thursday, folks, and welcome to Morning Brews. It’s almost the weekend, which means we’re that much close to the college football season. This morning I sound off on what I view to be a troubling trend in college football - limiting the ability of sports writers to do their jobs. The subject of my ire is Notre Dame, but Michigan also restricts access - albeit not to the same extent as Notre Dame’s new policy. In the end, policies like these only harm you - the fan - because they prevent us from bringing you the sports news you crave. Also this morning we have a short video of Jim Harbaugh discussing the benefits of the Rome trip from a non-football perspective.

As has become custom, there is a musical theme to this morning’s Brews. There are at least four clues, including the main photo - which is, as has inadvertently become the trend, a rather obscure reference to the song. Fire away down in the comments with guesses. I think this one will be pretty hard.

Let’s get to it:

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Gone Too Far? Reporting Guidelines in the Age of Social Media

One of the things that I think is great about the SBNation platform is that it brings fans together with other fans and sportswriters in a way that I don’t think any other platform has been able to replicate. Many of us who write on these blogs are fans ourselves, and we write for you - our fellow fans. For those like me, this is a hobby. For others, writing for an SBNation blog is a stepping stone in a planned career in sports journalism.

Regardless of why we write for an SBNation blog, we can only write because we have access to information. Some writers pull publicly available information and write articles based on that alone. Other writers have relationships with coaches, athletes, administrators, and others that allow them to conduct interviews, report news based on what their sources tell them, and so on. With the advent of social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), sports journalism - and really all of journalism, for that matter - has changed.

Utilizing these new tools, sports writers are able to bring more information to fans faster. Can’t attend a press conference or its not being carried on TV? No problem, we can live-stream it using our phones through Periscope, Facebook Live, and other tools. Can’t attend an open practice? The same tools can be utilized to provide more people access to these events. Want to ask a sports writer a question? Utilize Twitter, Facebook, and the like to do so in short order.

Of course, with new technology comes new policies - new ways of doing business, as the saying goes. Some schools, Michigan included, are concerned about when this access becomes too much access - hence Jim Harbaugh’s “Submarine” during fall camp. Being able to live Tweet and broadcast practices mean that some things not intended to be made public become public, like offensive and defensive sets, playcalling mechanisms, and so forth. To that end, most schools have media guidelines - that is, terms that journalists agree to follow when attending events like practices or else they’ll be barred from attending.

In principle, I don’t have a problem with these policies - and I don’t think there are many sports writers out there who are fundamentally opposed to them. They serve an important function in preventing writers from (inadvertently) doing the job of opposing team scouts. However, just as important I think, is calling out these policies when they go too far - and some are indeed starting to go too far. Notre Dame has one such policy, and it’s drawing some blowback from the sports media.

The full policy may be read HERE, but the highlights (lowlights?) include a hard cap of three minutes of non-editorial video per event per day (i.e. press conference, practice, etc.) and it cannot be broadcast live, a ban on tweeting or posting of any kind while observing a practice, a ban on reporting injuries until the team reports them, a ban on reporting plays run or game strategy, and a ban on reporting comments made by coaches and players during practices.

What would be banned? If Michigan had ND’s policy and I were attend a practice and tweet, “Khalid Hill getting a lot of work with the jumbo set. Looks like he’ll be a big threat in short yardage situations again this season” I would have violated the policy - even if no scout in the FBS would be surprised to hear that information - because I tweeted during practice and reported game strategy and plays. If I were to attend a post-game press conference and Facebook Live three minutes and five seconds, I would have violated the policy by livestreaming the press conference and going over the three minute video limit. In effect, we’re chained to reporting what the school wants us to report.

Needless to say, some sports writers are not amused. Chris Mannix, a writer for Yahoo Sports and contributor for several other outlets said, “[The] [p]aranoia of college programs w/media coverage has always been absurd. These rules are laughable.” And I have to agree. These rules are absurd. They appear to be an attempt to stymie the flow of information coming out of a college football program so it can only be disseminated by outlets controlled by the school. Maybe the policy is an overreaction to a legitimate concern about game strategy being reported and exploited by opponents, maybe the policy is about money and licensing, or maybe the policy is about something else.

Regardless of the justification, ND’s policy goes too far. It restricts information too much, and it does so at the expense of the fans that the program needs to court in order to sell tickets, merchandise, and more. Not all fans can attend open practices or watch post-game press conferences, and that’s where sports writers step in - to fill that gap between you and the sports news you want. So what do you think? Did I get it right or am I off base? Weigh in with the poll below and down in the comments.

Poll

Are programs right to restrict the ability of sports writers to report on events, like practice, to the extent Notre Dame does with their new policy?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Yes
    (238 votes)
  • 25%
    No
    (106 votes)
  • 16%
    It’s not so simple (comment)
    (67 votes)
411 votes total Vote Now

What did Jim Harbaugh think about the Rome trip? Well hear it from the head man himself in the video above. Harbaugh says trips like this one, “puts the student back in student-athlete” by exposing athletes to other cultures, languages, and peoples. Further, Harbaugh says, “it’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of on a football team.” It’s this aspect that I hope the NCAA understands, because banning trips like Rome will be to the detriment of the student-athletes. Coaches will find other ways to recruit, but removing the ability of students to have experiences such as this would truly be harming the very individuals the NCAA is supposed to protect.