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Vol. 48, No. 1 • November 2010 • .pdf version
When, why did SIDs go into lockdown mode?
By KIRK WESSLER / Third Vice-President
Just when I think access issues in college sports couldn't get much worse, something like this happens.
Back in June, our paper assigned a reporter to cover one of the summer sports camps in the area. While at the camp, our man encountered a local athlete who now competes for a Big 12 school. It was a perfect opportunity to update our readers on the kid's career, plus get his insight on this particular camp, which had helped raise his profile as a recruit two years ago.
But the interview never got past the first question.
"We're not allowed to do interviews," the athlete said.
I wish there had been a punch line. Sadly, as many of you know too well, this was no joke. Such situations are becoming the norm.
As if the challenges of shrinking newspaper budgets and increasing layoffs weren't enough threat to our livelihoods, we're faced with ever more obstacles to performing our basic jobs. When the simplest summer staple – local boy or girl makes good – can be stymied this way, we have a serious problem.
What to do about it?
Here, I appeal to the sports information directors in our group: We need your help.
You SIDs comprise more than one-fifth of the USBWA membership. We value your participation. You're important to our fiscal health. The work you do to compile records, player bios, game-day notes and to alert us to obscure milestones about to be achieved … all that is invaluable. But that's only part of your job.
On Page 3 of the 2010 USBWA Membership Directory, in a section called "About the USBWA," the first paragraph includes these words: "The primary goal of the USBWA … (is) to serve the interests of journalists who cover college basketball."
Truth is, one of the journalists' major interests – some of us would say the most major among major interests – is access to coaches and players. In too many places, it's not happening. Two or three minutes in a postgame interview room is not a sensible definition of access. "You can get the coach on his weekly conference call" is not access. Players off limits to chat for five minutes on their way off the practice court is not access. Players directed not to do interviews with hometown media during a two-week summer break is not access.
Am I being clear?
I hate to make this sound like a fairy tale, but it really seems like one. Once upon a time … believe it or not, SIDs were advocates for the needs of media who covered their teams. Real advocates. And we had reasonable access. That generation of SIDs, it seems, is gone; replaced by a new breed intent on controlling, rather than facilitating, the message and the process.
I know, some of you, maybe even most of you, would argue these issues have been torn from your control. Coaches have been allowed to grow bigger than life, and you might be powerless to talk sense into your guy, even if you want to. Maybe yours is one of those schools already moving to render the professional sports journalists irrelevant. That's depressing to contemplate, but possible.
But this issue is bigger than one newspaper, one team, one conference or even six conferences hell-bent on taking over the world. The sport is bigger than all of us. Writers and SIDs have different jobs and serve different masters, but we all love college basketball. We should be working together to give millions of fans access to as many stories as we can muster.
The roadblocks, however, make this task harder than negotiating Chicago's toll roads during rush hour in construction season.
SIDs, please ... USBWA writers need your help.
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