The Fifth Down

President's column:
My platform? Access

It sure looked like the Ohio State locker room. It sure as heck smelled like an Ohio State (or any
other team's) locker room. There were a lot of sweaty, hairy men running around celebrating a Fiesta Bowl win.

So what was the big deal the night of Jan. 2?

The fact that we were actually allowed in the Ohio State locker room. For the first time, BCS fathers, in their wisdom, mandated open locker rooms in their four bowl games.

I have to admit, it was a bit of surprise but a welcome one. The trend, of course, has been away from open postgames. Sad to say that I've seen the art treasures of the Vatican on a special VIP tour but I haven't seen the inside of the Michigan locker room after a random Big Ten game.

Welcome to the platform on which I ran for FWAA president in 2006. Access. More and better access for all of us. OK, I didn't run and there is no such thing as a mandate in the rotating one-year terms for FWAA presidents.

But there is a bully pulpit to be used. I intend to make access my focus this year to locker rooms, to players, to coaches. Heck, back to our dear, old, bigger media guides.

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
President's column: My platform? Access
Dodd named 63rd president of the FWAA
2005 Scripps Freshman All-America Team
Katie Wieberg wins Volney Meece Scholarship
Fiesta Bowl's Junker wins Bert McGrane Award
Notre Dame's Weis is Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year
Texas wins Grantland Rice Trophy
Tulane captures 2005 Courage Award

A generation of reporters has been raised to accept the Sunday conference call, the Tuesday presser and maybe, maybe a few pearls after the Friday walk-through.

Part of the blame is on us for allowing this erosion of access to sources. We have not been vigilant enough or alert enough to realize what was happening.

I call it the "incorporation" of college sports. Coaches are the CEOs. Players are "assets" to be maintained. SIDs? Well, they are handlers of the assets, beholden to the CEOs in some instances.

It's still shocking when an SID sits in on an interview in a coach's office. The implication being that we can't be trusted without a his/her presence to verify every word that comes out of the coach's mouth.

Are we paying for every random blog, message board or erroneous piece of info that crawls across the bottom of the TV? Or is this the way it is now at College Sports Inc.?

It would require dozens of such "sit-ins" in an open locker room after a game so the easy thing to do is to shut the doors. Control the message. Deny the media and thus the public the very thing the school is trying to promote.

To the best of my knowledge, there are only a handful of major-college teams that open their locker rooms after games Miami, USC and UCLA come to mind. Miami, I think, realizes it has to compete for coverage in a pro market. Plus, in a world where too many teams don't provide access, Miami stands out with its colorful players and winning ways.

USC's philosophy is similar but is also a reflection of Pete Carroll's laidback approach. In any given postgame, you might see a celeb, a rap star, the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit, friends and parents. There is nothing negative about it. It is part of the USC vibe.

So why don't other schools get it? It's my conclusion that, by and large, coaches have taken total control over their programs. Part of it is flat-out paranoia. Part of it is a copycat mentality.

As is sometimes usual, things go too far. While at LSU, Nick Saban didn't allow his assistants to talk to the media. I'm sure some of those assistants were displeased that their names and faces weren't properly attached to a national championship run in 2003.

God forbid, those assistants might actually be seen and get better jobs. It's college, folks. As I've written in this space before, we're all in a unique situation. For the most part, we tend to write positive things about college athletes and coaches. There is less cynicism than in the pros where some of these media policies trickled down from.

More and more, as long as these schools have their rightsholder money, they don't care about anything else. Their rightsholders are paying for coverage so it tends to be positive.

The rest of us? Slotted into our weekly pressers.

The message for 2006 is to not settle ... for closed locker rooms, for coaches' pre-approving reporters and/or their questions, for the status quo.

The message might sound radical. So call me Jerry Rubin, but please call me this year. I'm in the directory via cell, office and e-mail.

Together we can, brothers and sisters.

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