USC Wrong To Punish The Media
Still somewhat shell-shocked from its now infamous NCAA sanctions, with a new athletic director and a new head football coach running the show, USC is understandably intent on drastically changing the environment surrounding its much-maligned program.
We get that.
What we don’t get is why Coach Lane Kiffin and AD Pat Haden have decided to punish the media along the way.
As someone who is no longer employed fulltime by a newspaper, the Trojans’ new ground rules won’t affect me much. But I can empathize with those well-meaning individuals who still will be trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities day-in and day-out.
USC has just made it a lot more difficult. Here is what the Trojans have done:
1. Media members no longer will have access to the team locker room after games, both at home and on the road, supposedly so they won’t harass recruits. I have news for school officials: Most media members couldn’t identify one recruit from another. It’s not why they’re there. They want to interview present players, not future one.
Apparently, Kiffiin and assorted current players — specific players USC chooses — will be brought into a media room for interviews. Now, that’s fine for media looking for a few bland sound bites. But for those who want to dig a little more, maybe talk to a particular defensive lineman, say, or a low-profile fullback, sorry.
The only option is to wait until the players and assistant coaches are showered, dressed and exit the locker room. Then PR types will help media members get the people they need to talk to. That’s great, except most media have strict deadlines which make it almost impossible to wait. The result: print media, in particular, takes a big hit. And newspaper readers won’t get nearly the same scope of coverage as in the past.
2. They have done away with the weekly USC football luncheon. Now, trust me, the culinary delight part is not a factor here. Even Pete Carroll used to joke about the “same old pasta” menu week after week.
Let’s just say it was never to be confused with the food at Spago. What is a factor is that immediate early-week access to Kiffin and players will no longer be as easy, especially for radio, TV media and newspaper and internet columnists.
School officials will point out the coach and players are available three days a week after practice, but most of those interviews are catch-as-catch-can events and not nearly as reliable.
Maybe we shouldn’t complain, though. Apparently, there was serious discussion about allowing media to view only 20 minutes of practice on those three days, then forcing reporters to leave. Someone, probably media-savvy Associate AD J.K. McKay, seems to have convinced others that the media needs to be on hand for practice to avoid more internet rumors and innuendo. So I guess we’re supposed to be thankful for that.
3. No coach or player can be interviewed in the lobby of Heritage Hall. Well, anyone in the media can tell you that hanging around the lobby was a great way to snag a few important quotes from, oh, Matt Barkley one day and maybe Allen Bradford the next. The exercise was casual and non-threatening, and I cannot fathom why this rule would be installed, other than to make life even more difficult for the media. School officials will say it helps players get to their classes on time. Come on, guys. If a player said he had to get to class, nobody from the media wrestled him to the floor to keep him there. This simply has the feel of another media harrassment.
In its official statement sent out to the media, USC explained it had to enact changes “to remain in compliance with imposed NCAA sanctions.” Right. The NCAA was really worried about the media.
Here’s the part that got me, though. “We believe,” the statement read, “the media’s ability to cover the Trojans will be minimally impacted.” Easy for them to say.
These moves are disappointing, especially in regards to Haden. Clearly, he is eager to make his presence felt. But you’d think a former pro and college player with his high level of intelligence would have had a better feel for how to handle this.
Keeping boosters away from the players? Absolutely, that is where the majority of these problems start, as they would be glad to tell you in the SEC, where this stuff has been going on for years.
But keeping the media away from the players? How does that prevent anything? Actually, college is supposed to prepare many of these gifted athletes for life after graduation, which includes pro football for many of them. By limiting their access to the media here, they will make it more difficult for these kids when they get to an NFL city like, say, New York, where they will be inundated by media.
This is not to say we don’t understand the administration’s side in this. Pushing the limit to keep the program clean and honest, well, everyone grasps that. And make no mistake, many of the new rules Haden and Kiffin have implemented make a great deal of sense.
It’s just that going out of their way to punish the media does not.
— STEVE BISHEFF