At least from my corner of the blogosphere the announcement by the coaching staff that the press will now only be invited to practice for the first 20 minutes of practice and the last 10 minutes, cause a tide wave of emotion and reaction. I wanted to give my thoughts:
Before I get started, a little note on what happens in these times during practice. The first twenty minutes is entirely warm-up and individual drills. This has always been the time that traditionally photographers and TV crews were allowed to shoot. Nothing of note gets reported from this time frame other than who’s not there and who’s in red or yellow (which suggests they’re injured). The final 10 minutes is generally a wind-down time including field-goal practice and the leftovers of scrimmaging. I suspect that with the new rules it’ll be pretty content free. I mean, that’s the whole point, right? What I’m saying here is that for the most part, the press is no longer being given access to practice at all. Those minutes were chosen carefully and there’s no illusion from Tedford or the press that it was an attempt to do anything different.
Now, onto my thoughts…
The first thing to note is that this is completely Coach Tedford and the University’s prerogative. There are no rules that regulate how much or little press access a team must give. One could argue this is an oversight by the NCAA. While they make all kinds of rules about recruits and all kinds of various things, they leave press access completely untouched. As I’ll go into details later, Tedford’s concern is that the coverage of his team is much more thorough than some of his opponents. As such, I suspect that if the NCAA came up with rules that forced equality, it could eliminate this problem entirely and Tedford would be more than happy to comply.
The second thing to note is that the change that has been made is not uncommon. I don’t have exact numbers but I suspect that the new rules are closer to the norm across BCS teams than not. As an anecdotal piece of info, LSU got some heat for making the same change not too long ago. Yes, USC and Florida both have completely open practices, but they’re the exception not the rule. It’s particularly worth noting that these are the teams with the most talented players. That’s not exactly a secret and it ensures that they’ll continue to be on top with reasonable coaching that knows how to take advantage of that talent differential, whether or not their opponent knows what is coming.
The final initial note is that I completely agree that there is a competitive disadvantage to having more reporting on one team than their opponent, which is Tedford’s concern. When Cal’s reporters are giving play-by-play breakdown of what happens in practice and Maryland’s reporters are getting filtered information from the coaching staff, there’s no doubt that the Maryland coaching staff can learn a lot more about how to beat Cal than the reverse. And yes, the coaching staffs read all this stuff. Make no mistake about it. I think that as the season progresses this advantage is less and less because game film makes up the difference, but even at the end of the season, it could still have a small effect.
So, overall I’ve got no problem with Tedford restricting access. What concerns me a bit is the way it was gone about, in two ways:
First, it feels to me like the horse was already out of the barn on this one. They should have been looking at the daily reports that were being done from the get go and made whatever corrections they thought were appropriate a couple weeks ago. To make this change now suggests to me they weren’t playing close enough attention. This is particularly bad because people started signing up for subscriptions based on the level of info provided. Rivals provides a 7-day trial and after 7-days of awesome play-by-play breakdowns, I bet there were a number of people who signed up for year-long subscriptions based on that. A week later, their reason for subscribing was eliminated and I feel bad for them.
Second, I think there’s a better way to go about this. Since only approved media is allowed, there’s a way to limit this without disallowing press access to practice. We had been given rules on what was allowed. Pictures and video could only be taken at certain times. Descriptions of formations were not allowed. Descriptions of plays had to be vague and the emphasis had to be on the players involved not the details of the play. All of these rules had been followed by the press as a whole (yes, I’m sure there were minor oversights here and there, but holistically, they were followed). So, if Tedford was concerned about what was being reported, why didn’t he just handout a bunch of additionally restrictive rules and let us stay? No play-by-play… OK, fine. No completion percentages or yardage information… OK, we’ll follow that too. Whatever it was that he was concerned about, new rules could be put in place that we would have followed and it could have just as easily accomplished the goal.
But in the end, Tedford is responsible for this team and its success. He did what he felt he needed to ensure that success and I can’t fault him for that. While it will limit what I can share, I guess that’s the way it needs to be. I just wish it had been handled a little bit differently.