The Fifth Down

President's column
So, what defines 'media-friendly'?

In the last edition of The Fifth Down, I wrote that the SEC, more than any other conference, appears to get the need for good relations with the media. The context was media guides – the SEC is for ‘em – but that wasn't the only evidence that shows the league is media-friendly.

How then to take the latest maneuvers?

In late July, the SEC issued a media credentials policy that was, to be kind, draconian. Probably unenforceable. Perhaps illegal. And for those media organizations covering college sports, unacceptable.

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
• President's column
• SEC media policies (.pdf)
• Best Writing Contest winners
• Meece Scholarship nominations are open

Backlash and uproar followed, and the league backpedaled, issuing a revised policy. It wasn't acceptable, either – at least not according to the letter sent to SEC commissioner Mike Slive by a combination of heavy-hitting media groups (the American Society of News Editors, Associated Press Managing Editors and Associated Press Sports Editors).

Faced with a potential boycott by some media organizations, the SEC issued another revised policy a little more than a week before kickoff of the season (at press time, there was no word on a final, final, final policy). Although the most recent policy remains problematic, it's not nearly as bad. It would be worth your time to review the policy, which can be found at this link:

Revised Southeastern Conference credential policies (Aug. 29)
► Revised Southeastern Conference real-time media policies (Sept. 1)

The revisions addressed several objections of the ASNE, APME and APSE. The groups' letter had listed three major points of contention related to: use of audio and video highlights on newspaper's Web sites; use and sale of photographs taken at SEC events; restrictions on in-game blogging and other Internet transmissions. Several of those issues were resolved, but others remain.

There's more, and again, I'd encourage every FWAA member to review the policy, and to make sure your organization has a handle on it, even if you're not covering the SEC. There are credentialing issues with other conferences; several intend to limit in-game Internet transmissions (blogs, tweets, etc.). But the SEC's policy, even revised, is the most far-reaching attempt to date by a college sports organization to control coverage.

It's probably also just the first skirmish. The SEC's attempted restrictions echo the policies of professional leagues; the battles between media organizations and those leagues have been going on for a while now. It's also the SEC's attempt to deal with new, ever-changing technology. We've seen how newspapers have struggled to deal with the Internet – why are we surprised to learn others can't harness it, either?

While this battle should be fought by individual media organizations – your publisher should already be involved – the FWAA agrees philosophically with the ASNE, APME and APSE. We're hopeful the SEC will revise the revised policy, and return to its former status as the conference that gets the need for good media relations.

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Reminders, odds and ends as we head into football season:

► The final FWAA membership count for 2009-10 is more than 1,100, which is an all-time high – which is interesting. Despite the current struggles in our industry, the FWAA continues to have an important voice in college football.

► The 2009-10 FWAA Directory should arrive in members' mailboxes soon, and will be followed quickly (in a separate mailing) by Marriott VIP Athletic Rate Program cards.

► Update on the access battles: Oklahoma State has never had never been more positive publicity going into a season – which makes the actions of Mike Gundy, now 42, even more strange. With one day's notice in mid-August, the coach cut off interviews with players and coaches for 12 days – until his first regular game-week media access. There didn't appear to be any significant precipitating agitation (not that it would have excused Gundy's actions). Oklahoma State's media relations staff did a fantastic job scrambling to set up what was, in effect, a second media day to help reporters get stories in the can before the blackout started. But Gundy's actions reflected poorly on his school, and they serve as a reminder of the access issues we continue to face.

► The FWAA's newly-formed ethics committee, chaired by Ron Higgins, my immediate predecessor, is in place. The Knight Foundation's Malcolm Moran is also serving on the committee. The FWAA's board of directors has adopted a code of ethics, and the committee is the first stop for resolution of conflicts between FWAA members and the schools and conferences we cover.

► The FWAA is seeking nominations for the “Super 11” SID honors. Tim Griffin of ESPN.com, the FWAA's first vice-president, is chairing the committee, but we'd like members' input as to the SID staffs doing the best jobs – in some cases, navigating the tough middle ground between coaches and media. A list of the main criteria is available in the July edition of The Fifth Down.

Note: This column is an updated version of the column published in the printed version of the August edition of the Fifth Down.

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FWAA president George Schroeder covers college football for The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore. He can be reached at gschroeder@aol.com.

FWAA writing contest winners announced

The results from the FWAA's 17th Annual Best Writing Contest are in. All places will be recognized at the FWAA's Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 7, 2010, at the BCS Championship Game Media Hotel in Newport Beach, Calif. Places 1-3 receive certificates and cash prizes, and honorable mentions get certificates. Winners in each category also will will receive commemorative footballs. The winning entries are the focal point of this issue of The Fifth Down.

KEY FWAA CONTACTS

• Bert McGrane Award nominees: Mark Blaudshun (blauds@aol.com)
• Volney Meece Scholarship nominees: Dave Sittler (davesitt@aol.com)
• Website, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week: Ted Gangi (webmaster@sportswriters.net)
• Membership Directory: Charlie Fiss, AT&T Cotton Bowl (charlie@attcottonbowl.com)
• Ethics/Press Relations Committee: Kirk Bohls (kbohls@statesman.com)
• College Football Playoff Liaison: Gina Lehe, College Football Playoff (glehe@collegefootballplayoff.com)
• Eddie Robinson Award: Steve Richardson (tiger@fwaa.com)
• Fifth Down Blog/FWAA Best Writing Contest: Ken Stephens (ken.stephens@sbcglobal.net)
• Bronko Nagurski Award: John Rocco, Charlotte Touchdown Club (jrocco@touchdownclub.com)
• Outland Trophy, All-America Team: Steve Richardson (tiger@fwaa.com)
• Grantland Rice Super 16 Poll: Phil Marwill, National Football Foundation (pmarwill@footballfoundation.org)
• Discover Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award: George Schroeder, USA TODAY (gschroeder@aol.com), Ron Higgins, Nola.com (rhigg@aol.com)
• Freshman All-America Team: Mike Griffith, MLive Media Group (mgrif32@aol.com)

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