The Fifth Down

President's column:
Access vs. control

How many times have you heard this one: "We're sorry, he's not being made available to the media." You sigh, you persist to the sports information representative, most often fruitlessly, and call your office to inform them the collegiate football story everyone wants – editors, readers, talk-show listeners and Internet chatters – is not available.

It doesn't stop there.

You worry competition from across town or across state, be it electronic, print or Internet, will find means to the story. Perhaps the TV broadcast giant with rights to the game will have an exclusive showing on game day while you're munching your press box cookies.

Hence, the common dilemma: Do you, A) Break the respective school's rules and policies and contact the athlete yourself, risking possible repercussions down the line, or B) wait and hope the news breaks at the same time for everyone? The folks that answered "A" are more likely to please the people they work for and keep their jobs than the ones who choose "B" and get beat on a consistent basis.

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
• President's column: Access vs. control
• FWAA names 2006 Scripps Freshman All-America Team
• Kaylynn Monroe wins Meece scholarship
• Boston Globe’s Blaudschun wins of Bert McGrane Award
• Rutgers' Schiano is Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year
• Florida wins Grantland Rice Trophy
• Clemson's McElrathbey named winner of FedEx Orange Bowl Courage Award

University sports information rules, like NCAA bylaws, don't apply to media members in a court of law.

But there's also much to be said for maintaining a positive relationship with the coaches/athletic departments you cover, particularly for beat reporters planning on covering a specific team for a significant length of time. That's just one example of how relationships are breaking down between media members and the schools they cover.

Another growing issue affecting relationships between media and universities is that they sometimes become competitors.

When news is revealed through school releases, even if given to media sources at the same time, it's often on the respective university's website first. Pre-Internet that seemed to work fine.

But now, those same schools you cover on your organization's website have their very own Internet stop, complete with sponsors.

Such competition for the advertising dollar is where most media managers looking to the Internet as the future and/ or a source of revenue must draw the line.

No wonder past FWAA president Ivan Maisel of espn.com, one our highest profile members, suggests newspaper publishers must get involved at a high level before changes occur.

Malcolm Moran, another widely respected reporter, recently left the newspaper business to take over as the Knight Chair at Penn State University. Speaking at the annual FWAA Breakfast at the BCS Championship site, Moran said now that he's on the "other side," he sees how poorly the media is viewed by the schools.

In Knoxville, where the University of Tennessee's level of media scrutiny ranges between intense and nuclear, the Vols' open football practice policy has gone by the wayside, and with it, so have many positive working relationships.

The media wants and needs access. The universities, and their everincreasing number of high-dollar coaches, demand control. There's the rub.

There are some rays of hope on the horizon, but it's going to take people who realize that understandings and compromises are in the best interests of everyone, including the fans funding collegiate athletics.

The National Football Foundation is getting involved with a media-friendly two-day forum in Dallas that could include four prominent coaches, four Heisman Trophy candidates and BCS representatives.

A chance to further shrink the ever-widening gap between media and collegiate football programs takes place at the annual CoSIDA meetings in San Diego in July.

Charles Bloom, associate assistant commissioner of the SEC and a member of the FWAA Board, will be there as incoming CoSIDA President (for 2007-08). I'll be there representing the FWAA and pleading our case with hopes of finding middle ground for the daily beat writers providing the backbone of collegiate football coverage.

Maybe one day of one-half of an open practice? Photographers can only shoot so many knee-high and stretching drills. It's hard for reporters to assess talent watching wind sprints.

How about being allowed to interview the student- athlete of your choosing? Many schools are trotting the same players out each week or limiting your choices to their liking and/or approval.

So much for freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

Shouldn't the schools hold the news on their sponsored website until after it has been made available to the media?

Can you imagine if the White House had it's own sponsored web site and controlled the news? There are laws against that here, though some countries have governments that do control the media in that manner. They're on the other side of the world with nuclear weapons pointed our way.

So, fellow FWAA ambassadors, bring forth your suggestions. I'm all ears, and your local sports information department should be eager to listen.

Mike Griffith of the Knoxville News-Sentinel is the president of the Football Writers Association of America. He can reached via e-mail at mgrif32@aol.com.

•

Mike Griffith of the Knoxville News Sentinel was named the FWAA's 64th president at the association's annual meeting on Jan. 8 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Griffith, 40, succeeds Dennis Dodd of CBS SportsLine who served as the FWAA's president this past year. Other officers named in early January were Ron Higgins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal as the first vice president and George Schroeder of The Daily Oklahoman as the second vice president.

Griffith has been in the newspaper business for two decades at newspapers from Idaho to Alabama.

But he first served three years in the U.S. Army from 1984-87 and was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division where he earned his Paratrooper Badge, Army Achievement Medal and Good Conduct Medal. Then, it was on to Michigan State, where he earned his B.A. in journalism in 1991.

While a student at Michigan State, Griffith worked part-time at the Lansing State Journal, where he got his start covering junior college men's and women's basketball, amateur golf, professional boxing, Detroit Lions home games, prep and local soccer and high school football.

Upon graduation, Griffith landed his first full-time newspaper job at the Idaho Falls Post Register, where he got his first taste of covering college football as the Idaho State beat writer. After two years there, in 1993 he moved to the Anniston Star, where Auburn sports were his main beat.

Then he switched Southeastern Conference teams when he took a job a year later at the Mobile Press Register. For four years he covered all the major Crimson Tide sports and continued his affinity for NASCAR, which started in Anniston.

He has been in Knoxville since 1998 and has covered both Volunteer football and men's basketball as a beat, as well as NASCAR. He has been a radio and television analyst.

Mike has won several writing awards in Alabama and Tennessee, as well as in the FWAA's Annual Best Writing Contest. Since its inception, Mike has coordinated the Scripps FWAA Freshman All-America team.

New members to the 2007 board are: Chip Brown, The Dallas Morning News; Bob Holt, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Carter Strickland, Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Bob Clark, Eugene Register-Guard; Matt Markey, Toledo Blade; Michael Lewis, Salt Lake Tribune; Buddy Davis, Ruston Daily Leader; Steve Irvine, Birmingham News; Brett McMurphy, Tampa Tribune; Robbi Pickeral, Raleigh News & Observer, and Joe Hornstein of Central Florida (ex-officio).

•

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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