KVAL Sports Anchor Tom Ward posted a short commentary piece yesterday afternoon on the Mike Rice situation at Rutgers, and how it relates to the University of Oregon closing football practices under Chip Kelly, and continuing to do so under Mark Helfrich.
Ward's reasoning is that since Rutgers' basketball practices were considered "generally open" and Rice was still able to go on abusing his players for so long, it's a danger and a detriment to athletes to have practices closed off to everyone, especially the media. To wit:
New head coach Mark Helfrich is continuing the closed practice policy, but the incidents at Rutgers should serve as notice that it is time for the NCAA and/or the individual conferences to require coaches to open practices to the media.
Let me spell out the hypo-criticism for you.
The issue at hand in New Jersey and across the NCAA has very little to do with whether practices are open or not and more to do with administrative oversight (or lack thereof). Similarly, I'm pretty certain that the reason Ward wants has little to do with player safety, and more to do with the nature of his job as a sports reporter.
Granted, I get why many members of the media are upset that Oregon football practices are closed to the media, and there are some valid points to be had, namely the fact that less than an hour up I5, Oregon State has practices that are not only open, but have live music.
Additionally, the access that national media outlets like ESPN get when they're in town put local reporters even further behind the 8-ball when trying to compete with the giants of the sports-journalism world, and to be frank, Kelly wasn't terribly cordial with the media during his tenure in Eugene.
All of the above are valid points to make and reason for someone who's livelihood depends on the quality of their reporting to be annoyed.
Here's why while I'd rather be able to watch practice and report accordingly, I'm okay with the Ducks practicing behind closed doors:
1: Competitive advantage.
Sure, people can scoff at this, point to Oregon State and USC as examples of competitive programs where practices are open to the media. Heck, even Alabama lets reporters in for a bit, but Oregon is a bit different than all of those programs. Part of the lore of the Crimson Tide is that everyone knows exactly what they're going to do on the field, and they still run everyone over.
Oregon is different in that much of what they do on offense is based on deception and creating mismatches down the field. The Ducks are a little different in everything they do: the drills they run, the order they run them in, and the players that run them. If a roll of critical film made its way to the air, it could prove problematic down the road.
2: Player and program safety:
One of the reasons cited by University of Oregon athletic staff for the closing of practices was the risk posed by checker members of the community if they showed up to practice.
In a meeting last week involving Helfrich and members of the media, Executive Assistant Athletic Director Dave Williford specifically mentioned an incident from a couple years back where an individual with prior convictions of a sexual nature attended practice.
This was met with skepticism from some members of the local press, but it does happen. During one South Eugene High School football workout in 2009, a transient man walked into the turf complex with hypodermic needles in his hand.
The incident ended with nobody getting hurt and the police escorting the man off campus, but can you imagine the fallout if he had run out and stuck a teenager with a needle and given him hepatitis, or worse? If that were to happen at Oregon, multiply the fallout many, many times over.
With all that being said, I have no problem with Tom Ward objecting to being locked out of practice, and agree that he has some good reasons to back up his annoyance. Just don't try to pull the wool over our eyes with a thinly-veiled commentary. We're smarter than that.