The past few weeks the buzz around college athletics on the business side continues to grow, and with it comes a little larger national spotlight that is putting Universities in a position of access that has not been the norm on a consistent basis for many schools outside of those with the largest followings in the media. With that larger spotlight also comes more responsibility and the need to probably adjust policies that may have worked in the past.
Some recent examples have been seen in both the SEC and the Pac 12 with regard to media access during football season. Some coaches and schools have changed policies to limit media coverage of practices and access to athletes, citing issues of injuries being reported falsely or “information” being leaked through social media. Others have said that long-standing open policies for access have to change because “media” is becoming a distraction to the student-athletes, despite the fact that they play in front of thousands on the weekend and they don’t seem to be distracted then. Media members opine the loss of access, while coaches and schools close ranks so that secret information doesn’t leak out through a bloggers twitter feed, or inconsistent or false information about an injury doesn’t filter out and create more issues. What is a school to do?
On the professional side, there are pretty clear cut rules on access, which are dictated by the league. The NFL for example since it is football season, sets the access rules to be followed by teams for each day, as well as the manner of injury reporting by the media. The policies are followed on both sides pretty efficiently. The same seems to play out very well in the other major sports as well. Maybe the coaches don’t like some policies but they are reviewed from time to time and adjusted as need be given feedback from both sides so that there is a fair period of consistent access. If the rules aren’t followed, complaints can be filed and in some cases fines can be issued. The system works.
Now there are differences in college. Schools have larger media contingents, leagues have varying degrees of rules setting and for the lost part it seems to be the coach that sets the policy for he or she and his/her players with the major sports. That leads to a great amount of inconsistency overall for media coverage and access, and as the stakes rise at the major college level, leads to what can be perceived as unprofessionalism or a siege mentality. What it really leads to is brand damage in an era where college athletics wants major dollars but in some cases still may not be prepared for all the distractions that go with such a bright light being shined down.
There is also the issue of why media need all-encompassing access to watch countless hours of practice as well. Many times in hyper-competitive markets the only reason media will show is to not get beat on something, which of course is their job…to break news. So coming up with a policy that granted access at certain times, and keeping the media informed of any adjustments but being consistent, is the best way to go. On the injury reporting side, while many in the media feel that self-policing would work…meaning no reporting of injuries seen until an official report comes out…is nice to think it would work until the policy is broken. That is the toughest call, because the lack of filter with social media can get rumors and false info. spread very quickly to family members without an official statement. So again it comes down to access. Maybe the access is in a non-contact period of 20-25 minutes on select days. So long as it is consistent amongst a GROUP of schools…a league…many problems can be avoided.
The other issue is education of media policies with coaches and athletes. On the professional side, the access is set up by the league and followed by the coaches, like it or not. Yes there is some adjustment but for the most part rules are rules, as stated before. On the college level it seems the policy is set by the coach after consulting with the media professional at the school. Now does the coach care or understand the role the media plays? Does he or she want to be involved in solving the issue? Many times the answer is probably no…he or she wants to “coach,” and do their job. However in a world where access and information is much more free flowing, managing, not dealing, but managing, the media has to be included in the job, like it or not. Understanding and creating a positive environment for all is the best way to go here. is it easy? No. Is it important? For sure. The same goes with athletes. The more athletes understand their role and the role of the media and how it can be used to their benefit, the better off all will be. Coverage can be a distraction, but it is now part of the game of big time athletics on the collegiate level more than ever, and it is not going away.
So end of the day who can create the consistency? Is it the NCAA? Is it the leagues? Is it the schools working together? Probably a combination of all. Does it mean that the media covering Boise State regularly will be the same as the media covering the University of Buffalo? No. But setting clear guidelines for access, at least across the league, can make everyone’s jobs a lot easier and can probably avoid another distraction for coaches…why can or can’t media members get the same time watching Oregon practice vs. Oregon State. With the spoils comes lots of responsibility, and with that responsibility should come some universal guidelines all can work with.