The Fifth Down

President's column:
More parity, less access

By now we've all gotten a taste of one of the most unusual collegiate football seasons in recent history.

Our eyebrows have been raised and our heads scratched as curious scores flashed before us on the scoreboard each weekend.

There was Appalachian State over Michigan, Stanford over USC and Louisiana- Monroe over Alabama, just to name a few.

Who would have imagined a 3-9 Notre Dame football team?

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
• President's column: More parity, less access
• FWAA All-America Team unveiled on ABC-TV
• LSU's Dorsey wins Bronko Nagurski Trophy
• Dorsey completes sweep, wins Outland Trophy
• Eight finalists named for Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award

Then there's Kansas, at one time ranked higher in football than basketball, and Connecticut's football Huskies outshining their basketball brethren.

Those who wanted parity have seen their wish granted.

As a result, now is when, where and why the Plus-One (four-team) playoff should get the necessary push to become a reality in the future.

“I'm working on it," SEC commissioner and BCS chairman Mike Slive said of the Plus-One while attending a recent Tennessee football game.

That's the good news.

In my closing column as FWAA President, I feel the need to also address concerns.

It seems another coach's door closes in this sport we choose to cover each day.

The current norm is a far cry from the days when Gene Stallings met with journalists after practices three days a week in his office, and media were invited to the Bryant Hall lunch room to interview any player of their choosing.

There have been more instances of friction between head coaches and media this year than at any time I can remember.

It's disheartening that this is happening even after access and the media's relationship with schools have been identified as issues of concern.

Some 300 people turned out at the CoSIDA Convention in San Diego in July to listen to a panel of media discuss the developing divide between media members and college football institutions and personnel.

The CoSIDA members pointed to the matter of trust as a key factor: How could their coaches trust media now that the Internet has created an avenue for the immediate release of information?

News is broken in bits and pieces before head coaches or sports information directors have an opportunity to digest and/or address it. So what to do?

It is a fair enough question that can only be answered over time with responsible journalism. All of us should take care to handle our stories in the most thorough and professional manner possible while dealing with the urgency brought on by the Web.

The schools and coaches we cover, however, have raised red flags with their actions and behavior as well.

One wonders how Penn State, one of the most tradition-rich collegiate programs in the country, could have sold a press pass to a football game on eBay.

The University of Tennessee, once one of the most accessible football programs in the land, has declined to allow media to interview its freshman players.

And yet, on the school's website fans can find question-and-answer sessions with those same freshmen.

That's not just hypocritical, it's an unfair business practice so long as the university is selling advertising on its website.

Perhaps Tennessee took its cue from recently resigned Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione, who was operating a premium information website on the sly.

Have coaches become so powerful that people like Franchione and South Florida coach Jim Leavitt believe they can do as they please?

Leavitt, who by all accounts has done an incredible job building a program, did a terrible job accepting defeat earlier this year.

Leavitt loaded his players on the team bus after a defeat to Connecticut without letting any speak with the media. Fortunately, Leavitt realized the error in his ways and pulled a few players off the bus for interviews.

Then there's Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

His screaming attack on a columnist is old news, yes, but big enough old news that it has overshadowed the respectable job Gundy has done coaching the Cowboys.

Just as coaches teach their players to advance the ball at every opportunity, members of the FWAA must be willing to tackle the growing issues as they develop within our respective markets.

At the very least, inform the FWAA when problems arise so the problems can be dealt with in an appropriate manner.

Ron Higgins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal will soon take over as FWAA President, and having worked alongside him for nearly two decades, I can assure you he is quite capable and very approachable.

And, as always, the FWAA is fortunate to have Steve “Tiger" Richardson as its executive director pulling most all strings behind the scenes. Steve is always just a phone call or e-mail away.

I've enjoyed this past year as president immensely and appreciate the cooperation of all involved, particularly those at my Scripps newspaper, the Knoxville News Sentinel, who have given me complete support. This has been a very rewarding and educational experience that I will benefit from for the rest of my career.

•

FWAA president Mike Griffith covers college football for the Knoxville News Sentinel. He can be reached at mgrif32@aol.com.

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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