Despite it being one of the most important aspects of the job, I don't think any college football coach actually likes dealing with the media. Sure, you have your occasional Steve Spurriers and Les Miles who seem to enjoy the hooplah around them eating part of the playing surface or threatening to run down the starting QB in their car, but for the most part I think college football coaches feel that the media really does nothing but hurt their team in the long run.
Which I guess I understand, in a general sense. Sometimes people forget exactly why Mike "I'm a man, I'm 40" Gundy went on his epic rant; it was in response to an article about Oklahoma State QB Bobby Reid, who was portrayed as soft and then infantilized by reporter Jenni Carlson, who fabricated a story from a game she hadn't even attended. Gundy was furious and proceeded to specifically detail to all present both his gender and biological age in defense of his quarterback.
And of course, as Ohio State fans now understand a little too well, when the media starts to turn up issues within your favorite program, life turns into an oversized Wheel of Fish where the only prizes are a Box of Nothing or a Red Snapper of NCAA violations.
It is no secret that Jim Tressel was no fan of allowing more media access to his program than was absolutely necessary; the constant push and pull between the football program and the people who report on it created some friction on both sides, and frankly, until Tatgate broke I never really understood why this was the case. Players were going to find a way to say dumb/weird/off color things in public no matter how often they talked to the media, and let's be honest: at this point there's no real reason to treat the idea of OSU calling for Dave on 3rd and short with the same level of secrecy as Iran-Contra.
But, for a long time, that was the norm at Ohio State. With the sending of an e-mail earlier this week, that seems to have changed.
The e-mail I refer to is the 2011 Ohio State Fall Camp Media Schedule. No less than eleven dates are scheduled throughout the month of August as media events; these range from simple photo opportunities to full blown practice viewings and interview sessions with players and coaches. There's a pretty good chance Assistant Communications Director Jerry Emig wanted to add "party at my place, you know, whenever" in there as well, but there simply was no room (and we'll assume he's down for some ultimate frisbee regardless).
As much of a departure as this is from the previous 8 months or so, it isn't without precedent. At Fickell's first press conference he had this to say when asked about what his message to the players had been:
Let's respect each other and respect the job other people have to do. We all enjoy when they shove a camera in our face after winning the Rose Bowl, but it's not enjoyable when they do it asking about something that's gone on. Let's just have respect and move on.
What made that response weird, other than the fact he forgot to provide his young charges with critical info on how to remove guacamole stains from their favorite Affliction t-shirts, is that the media reference was unprompted. From day one, Fickell has shown a desire to work with the media beyond that of his predecessor, and this is key for several reasons.
First, it helps give an impression of transparency, something sorely needed in a program trying to re-establish it's reputation of doing things in a boring, uneventful, and non-NCAA rules violating manner. Acting like you have something to hide means people are going to think you have something to hide; acting like you have nothing to hide means people will still probably think you have something to hide, but they'll say it out loud less often.
Second, it helps establish an identity. Right now, whether anyone likes it or not, the face of the 2011 OSU football team is still Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel. Giving players a chance to speak for themselves erases some of that. Before this week I literally had never pronounced Jeff Heuerman's name correctly. Now I'll never mess it up again, and only because he had the incredible audacity to say the word "ass" at a media function. That's seriously all it takes. Tell a dirty limerick, make a fart noise, whatever. Just do it on camera and in front of us and we'll be thinking about that way more than the nagging thought of an unemployed and destitute Jim Tressel, surviving on the mean streets of Columbus on nothing but his wits and a tattered sweatervest.
Third, it gives the media something to talk about other than potential NCAA sanctions. Some talk along those lines is unavoidable; August 12th and the following weekend will see another round of faux outrage and indignation from national commentators and it will be annoying, but by keeping actual football in the picture, Fickell can help stem the tide of that somewhat.
Finally, this kind of access is important because if you like sports, you should also like honesty when it comes to talking about said sports. When access is granted, the truth generally comes out, one way or another. Case in point: remember Mike Gundy and Jenni Carlson? Turns out Gundy was actually in the process of throwing his QB under the bus when he formally announced his candidacy for being both a man and 40, and Carlson wasn't too far off the mark when she noted that the Oklahoma State coaching staff had lost confidence in Bobby Reid.
It's never a perfect marriage when the media is given increased access to a major sports program. But it's worth it, and it appears Luke Fickell understands that.