Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Are closed camp practices a big deal?

If you're an avid reader of Badger coverage in the state's big newspapers, you know that Bret Bielema has closed preseason practices to the media, breaking a longstanding tradition. Most of the team's beat writers have done at least some kvetching about this, and rightfully so -- it deprives them of the chance to see the team in-depth.

Questions I'd like to know, that a reporter observing fall camp could answer, include: how's Allan Evridge looking? How are guys like Jason Chapman, Allen Langford, and Aaron Henry looking coming off their injuries? How are the new kickers looking?

But Sunday a columnist took the complaining too far. The State Journal's Tom Oates suggested that by keeping practice closed, Bielema is dampening enthusiasm and interest in the upcoming season. Oates says that this lack of access for reporters has relegated the Badgers to a distant #3 on the state sports scene behind the Packers/Favre saga and the Brewers' playoff push.

Well, no kidding, the Badgers come in third here. But you think a beat writer chronicling Brad Nortman's punt-by-punt performance is going to push Favre and the Brewers into the background? It's an asinine argument by Oates.

The out-of-sight, out-of-mind argument was made compellingly by some commenters here last fall when the Big Ten Network's lack of penetration made catching Badger games more difficult than before. But this is a real stretch. Most fans never see practice, and guess what? UW beat writers don't after the season starts anyway!

As a former sportswriter, sure I wish Bielema would give these guys more access. Control-freak high school coaches drove us nuts.

But if I were in his shoes, and I had a big question mark at quarterback and special teams, and a number of key guys coming off inuries, I might want to keep their performance a secret too. And in the end, if that policy helps the Badgers win an extra game or two this year, then I'll take that instead of daily preseason updates on how many yards Bradie Ewing rushed for or how many touchdowns James Stallons threw.

(Ironically, after writing this post, I went to uwbadgers.com, and the lead story on the football page was titled "Media Friendly." Which brought my to another thought: maybe the program is trying to drive traffic to its original content on its own website.)


Will said...

Short answer: No.

Long answer: It's somewhat complicated. I can totally see how the media guys get upset about this stuff, even though it always looks like sour grapes in print. The problem is that by putting the information on its site, combined with news from practices that often gets leaked on message boards, the policy really gives the shaft to the beat reporters and ties their hands pretty tight. If this information is for free on a school's website - and more in-depth, why pay for it in print or give it traffic online?

But that's not to say I want to limit access - I just also understand the school's perspective. There's too much at stake for the coaches and the schools to worry about how an early press report might impact the thoughts and attitudes of a 20-year-old kid.

It's not a new development that college football is big business, but it is kind of sad how corporate its become from the sponsorships down to the boring coach speak, down to the limited opportunities people have to observe the players.

Mr.Man said...

There is some merit to Oates's argument. Less access for reporters means fewer stories written about Badger football in August. For the casual Badger football fan, this could lead to less enthusiasm for the upcoming season.

I do agree with your point that the football team's upcoming season would remain a third story in the state behind Favre and the Brewers playoff run. In fact, I think Oates concedes this in his piece.

Jim Polzin said...

I was going to hold off commenting on this but I couldn't resist.

Point No. 1: Bielema claims the big issue is parents reading about injuries on the Internet before the training staff has a chance to contact them. OK, fair point. When the media could watch practice, there was a 4-hour rule on reporting injuries. Since the media can't watch practice, that rule no longer exists. So if a reporter sees a player hobbling to the locker room, it's fair game to post it on a blog or something. How is this solving Bielema's problem of dealing with phone calls from parents?

Point No. 2: Bielema wants to keep secrets, like how Evridge is looking and how healthy the ACL trio is. That makes sense -- if you open the season with a decent opponent. By the time the Badgers play somebody good (Fresno State), that opponent will have had two game films to study to learn everything it needs to know about UW.

So I'm not buying it. He's been wanting to close down practice for a while now and the injuries being posted on the Web during the spring gave him an excuse to do just that.

Scott Tappa said...

I totally agree on #2 from Jim, that crossed my mind when I ran across something about Akron being picked last in the MAC. We could probably beat them with Scott Polzin/Tolzien at QB.

It really does seem like Mulhern is working little jabs about the policy into a lot of his stories, doesn't it?