Red Raider Blockader?

Joe Yeager looks into teams closing practices, where it started and where it is at today.

In the early 1980s, Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson created a phenomenon that came to be known as Hoya Paranoia. In an attempt to shield his players from the bright and presumably distracting glare of the media spotlight, Thompson severely restricted media access to his players and program. Thompson had his reasons, but be that as it may, the wall he erected between his program and the media was an innovation. And predictably, the media resented it.


In the intervening three decades Thompson's restrictive--some would say draconian--policies have become more commonplace, and perhaps particularly so with football teams. Fortunately for fans of Texas Tech football and the media who cover the program, Tech has hitherto been immune to the cloaking tactics inaugurated by the legendary Georgetown coach.


Those days, however, have ended with the advent of one Kliff Kingsbury. Word has come down from the mount that, with the exception of photographers early in practice, media are barred from Texas Tech football practice. Not just certain practices, not just certain portions of the field, and not just certain electronic devices. Totally and completely. And for good measure, freshmen are unavailable for interviews.


This is a radical departure from what has gone before. Spike Dykes was laissez faire when it came to media presence. Mike Leach, Kingsbury's mentor, couldn't have cared less what the media did, just so long as they didn't air footage of gruesome injuries and their immediate aftermath. Tommy Tuberville was more restrictive than Leach, but just barely. Heck, he was known to shoot the breeze with media types during practice.


It is not clear why Kingsbury has reversed decades-long policy and tradition. No explanation was given. And of course, nobody is obligated to provide one. Still, the new policy is perplexing.


Can 10 dudes with cameras and another 10 with iPads and notebooks really be that much of a distraction? Perhaps if we looked like Scarlett Johansson and Kate Upton. Alas, we don't.


Are media types a threat to leak vital information that will help opponents beat the Red Raiders? That is difficult to believe. Even the best informed among us do not have the necessary knowledge to disseminate information significant enough to give opponents an advantage. And if leaked photographic evidence is the concern, it would be easy enough to ban electronic devices.


Perhaps the most logical explanation for Kingsbury's stance is that the media are a headache he simply doesn't need right now. Running a football program the size of Texas Tech's is not unlike being the CFO of a large company. There are a million and one things to deal with, lots of problems to solve, and manifold obligations to fulfill. And Kingsbury, a young man by any standard, is completely new to this situation. By banning the media, he removes one bothersome item from his plate.


But there can be drawbacks to keeping the program aloof from the media. First and most important, banishing the media means keeping information-hungry fans in the dark.


For better or worse, keeping up with every little detail of one's favorite sports team has become a national pastime. Nursed on the Internet, fans have come to expect a steady stream of juicy tidbits throughout the year. And in football-crazed Texas, spring practice is seen as a gridiron oasis in the desert that stretches from January to September.


The media serve as the conduit of information between teams and fans. By barring media from practice, Kingsbury has all but shut down the pipeline of information. Some fans will take this development in stride; others will chafe.


Additionally, there is something to be said for cultivating good relations with the media. Mike Leach knew this. In addition to his intriguing personality, Leach's media-friendly approach endeared him to the press, and still does. Consequently, he became a figure of national fascination. And even local media routinely gave him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps, when he didn't deserve it. It is human nature to be gentle to those who have treated you well.


Taking the opposite approach to the media runs the risk of creating an adversarial relationship between the coach and those who cover his program. Reporters who would pull their punches with Leach, might let fly with Kingsbury. This would be unprofessional, but it is a distinct possibility. In larger media markets, running feuds between reporters and coaches are not uncommon. That has never happened in Lubbock, but it is hardly impossible.


Now nobody need throw the proverbial pity party for media and fans. Perhaps we have been spoiled for too long. And Kliff Kingsbury certainly has every right to run his program as he sees fit. But it is also possible that Kingsbury has solved a "problem" that did not exist. 




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