The Fifth Down

President's column:
BCS does the right thing on media access issues

PASADENA, Calif. The headlines out of the recent annual meetings all read something like: "No changes from BCS."

Sure, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson proposed blowing up the current system and going to an eight-team playoff. But that's not going to happen anytime soon.

Still, there was real change enacted, and it's something FWAA members can and should applaud. In an era when the media finds more doors closing and access greatly reduced, the BCS commissioners and the BCS bowls, too showed they understand the value of publicity and our coverage of college football.

First, the Rose Bowl fined Penn State and Joe Paterno an undisclosed amount for violations of BCS media access rules. Second, the BCS commissioners adopted a rule to mandate access to standout players during pre-game interview sessions at BCS bowls a direct response to actions of Ohio State's Jim Tressel during the Buckeyes' last two bowl appearances.

Paterno, you might recall, declined a pre-game interview with ABC, then refused to open the Nittany Lions' locker room after the loss to USC. The Rose Bowl's contract requires the head coach to conduct the pre-game interview; the BCS rules require an open postgame locker room.

Meanwhile, the BCS commissioners' action came after a strong recommendation from public relations and media relations directors from the bowls and the BCS conferences and after a call to action by the FWAA.

Tressel declined to make freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor available for interviews at any time in the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. It was the second straight year Ohio State had flaunted the spirit, if not the letter, of the BCS' intent on media access.

Speaking of the letter, here's the actual wording of the new rule passed to address the situation:

"The student-athletes who accompany the offensive and defensive coordinators to the news conferences at the bowl sites must include the starting quarterback, leading tackler, all major national award winners and first-team all-Americans. The institution, working in conjunction with the bowl's media coordinator, may choose to bring additional student-athletes who are in the starting lineup."

Much of the credit for the rule should go to the committee of public relations directors. But the FWAA was involved, as well.

In January, the FWAA's Executive Committee sent a letter to all BCS commissioners outlining the issues with Penn State and Ohio State. The letter noted the actions of Ohio State a year earlier at the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans after which, the BCS' PR committee had proposed a rule change that was voted down.

The BCS commissioners allowed us to participate in one of their sessions in Pasadena. On behalf of the FWAA, I presented our case to the commissioners and their athletic directors' advisory council and endorsed the PR committee's proposal.

The commissioners and athletic directors had several questions, and we had a robust discussion on issues related to the incidents at the Rose and Fiesta bowls. The discussion also touched on a couple of unrelated issues including the FWAA's recent formation of an ethics committee and our commitment to working in good faith to resolve potential conflicts.

Specifically regarding what happened at the Fiesta Bowl, I suggested all we're looking for is routine access a reasonable expectation and warned of the potential for copycats if no action was taken.

I'm grateful to Bill Hancock of the BCS, ACC Commissioner John Swofford and Mike Finn of the ACC for their graciousness in granting the FWAA a hearing.

We should all thank the Rose Bowl, the BCS commissioners and the BCS public relations committee. Their actions send a message that they understand the value of publicity. I don't need to remind anyone that, in these challenging economic times, sports editors and sports directors aren't very inclined to staff BCS games if routine access isn't available.

It's good to see the BCS commissioners understand that regardless of the economy and the state of newspapers and other media it's desirable to have the starting quarterback meet with reporters before the game.

There might not have been big, sexy headlines out of the BCS' annual meetings, but for those of us who cover college football, what happened in Pasadena was very good news.

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