The Fifth Down

President's column:
Things have to change

It is an honor and a privilege serving as your president for the next year.

But I plan to do more than shake hands at public functions. I want to shake up the way our profession is being treated by the coaching establishment.

That's why in the next 12 months, starting with a meeting I had with the NCAA Football Committee in December, I made it crystal clear that things have to change.

The committee seemed to be stunned by our increased lack of access to players and coaches. They were surprised to hear how media guides have morphed into recruiting guides. In some of these guides, there may be 10 pages on a weight room and more than 100 pictures of a head coach, but year-by-year results have been omitted.

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
President's column: Things have to change
Board approves dues hike
FWAA names AON Freshman All-America Team
Felton named winner of Bert McGrane Award
Mangino is coach of the year
LSU wins Grantland Rice Trophy
Nate Kerkhoff wins Volney Meece scholarship
Navy's Singleton named winner of Courage Award

I'm tired of being told, "You can't." You can't talk to assistant coaches, you can't talk to freshmen, you can't watch the scrimmage, and you can't watch practice (unless you're part of an ESPN allaccess crew that coaches love for recruiting exposure).

And because we have been told "you can't," the level of frustration between reporters and coaches is at an all-time high.

The post-game situation with Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy this past football season is just an example of what could happen on every campus. When I related that to the NCAA Football Committee, it certainly became very concerned.

Both Grant Teaff of the American Football Coaches Association and Wright Waters of the Sun Belt Conference approached me about their concerns after the meeting. And the National Football Foundation's CEO, Steve Hatchell, and others are arranging a College Football Forum in May in Dallas where discussion can continue.

Also, the roundtable at the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, arranged by Charles Bloom of the Southeastern Conference, was another boost to get the ball rolling. Members of the FWAA, writers and sports information directors met for and hour and a half to discuss the current relationship between the media and coaches.

A middle ground must be found. I understand coaches are paranoid about the immediacy of the Internet. But they also must realize that if they want accurate reporting, our eyes must see something, like a scrimmage, and not be merely handed stats on what happened in a scrimmage.

Also, I plan to be at the BCS commissioners' meetings at the end of April in Miami, Fla. It is our belief that conferences need to establish some standard media policies, and all conferences are hiding behind the rationale that media policies are "an institutional decision."

If the NFL and NBA have media policies that work, why can't college football? Why aren't there set interview times during the week? Why aren't all players and coaches available? Why are locker rooms closed after games?

The answer is simple. Coaches now make millions and they don't care about us. If they don't respect the professional advice of their own sports information directors and some of them don't then they certainly don't respect how we handle our jobs.

Any coach who says, "I respect you guys (the media) and the job you do" is a flat-out liar.

If one coach says, "I'm closing scrimmages, you can't talk to my assistants and my freshmen are off-limits" and that coach has a winning season, then other coaches think that controlling media must have been a key to maintaining focus.

That's why conferences have to step in to stop this poison from spreading.

Conferences have to formulate a policy. And if schools don't follow the policy, you fine them, just like the SEC fines for fans rushing football fields and basketball courts in post-game celebrations.

As far as the media guide issue, hopefully CoSIDA will step forward and do something about making the media guide usable again. Leaders from that organization have asked the FWAA for input and a list of "must have" items in every media guide.

SIDs have bowed to the pressure of head coaches, who somehow believe a 17-year-old high school recruit is going to choose a school because of the 20 pages of pictures on facilities.

I've yet to see a kid quoted on signing day saying, "I chose (your school here) because the media guide had a picture in the training room of a treadmill that was underwater and used for rehab. Wow! Where do I sign?"

The 2008 football season will mark my 30th year in the business. With each passing year, particularly in the last 10, schools have made it more difficult for us to do our jobs.

We've got to draw a line in the sand. There has to be (Continued from page 2) some give by the coaches and sports information directors. SIDs are trying to figure out how to handle the advent of on-line media and the solution of the coaches to shut off access.

I'm tired of it, and my clock as president is ticking.

Ron Higgins becomes FWAA's 65th president

Ron Higgins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal became the FWAA's 65th president during the association's annual meeting on Jan. 7, 2008, in New Orleans.

He is the second straight FWAA president from Tennessee, succeeding Mike Griffith of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Higgins, 51, actually will be the latest in a long line of distinguished sports writers from the state of Tennessee who have served as FWAA president. The others are Griffith, Raymond Johnson (Nashville Tennessean in 1948), Tom Siler (Knoxville News Sentinel in 1954), Fred Russell (Nashville Banner in 1965) and Edgar Allen (Nashville Banner in 1978). But Ron is the first FWAA president from The Commercial Appeal.

Higgins got a jump start on his presidency when he attended a board meeting of NCAA Football this past December in New York City.

The son of a former LSU sports information director Ace Higgins, Higgins got his start as a sports writer at age 8 when he wrote stories for the hometown Baton Rouge Advocate. Ron played basketball at Angelina College in Lufkin, Texas, as a freshman. After averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds as a power forward/center, Higgins suffered a knee injury and transferred back to his home state.

FWAA president Ron Higgins covers college football for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn. He can be reached at rhiggins@commercialappeal.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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