Memo to Larry Scott:
I swore I was done piling on the Pac 12 after its recent three-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, capping the worst football\basketball\\China\FBI campaign in the history of the conference.
That’s right, you had veterans like Seattle-based scribe Bud Withers, who has forgotten more about the league than all of us combined are ever going to know, digging into his memory vault to find a worse stretch of road patch.
He couldn’t do it.
The league hasn’t been this wrong-way since Roy Riegels.
It is so bad one of my East Coast pals from Rutgers, somewhere in the swamps of Jersey, is taking pot shots at me, like I’m the guy making $4 million a year.
A school that competed in the first college football game ever played, in 1869, but very few since.
I did not graduate from the Pac 12, yet I am held responsible for the conference’s football-basketball performance?
I guess that comes with being born in L.A. and working for the Los Angeles Times.
But what more could I say about the 2017-18 campaign other than “it stunk.”
But then came Monday, when a tweet from colleague Michael Lev made me stand up straight up in my chair and say “Are you kidding me?”
Lev, a former USC beat writer for the Orange County Register, now covers Arizona football for the Arizona Daily Star.
Well, at least he’s trying to cover it.
Commissioner Scott, this is NOT the way to win over hearts and minds.
Sumlin, of course, is your first-year football coach at Arizona. It was a marquee hire in the minds of most after the dumpster-fire firing of Rich Rodriguez. Arizona could use all the positive publicity it can get and people are genuinely curious about what Sumlin, who did a fine job at Texas A&M, can do in Tucson.
Yet, shutting down the media–in spring practice!–marks yet another disturbing trend in your conference. One writer interested in doing a Sumlin story has already tweeted he is now NOT going to Arizona. Not far away, in Tempe, first-year Arizona State Coach Herm Edwards is welcoming all visitors to his first spring practices. That doesn’t mean Edwards is a better coach than Sumlin, but his meet-and-greet, free-publicity policy sure makes more sense.
Edwards, of course, has a background in the NFL, where all locker rooms are open during the week and after games. Sumlin, conversely, has been a lifer on the collegiate level.
The Pac 12, starved for publicity and losing ground nationally to the other top-tier leagues, should be driving its coaches, in limos, to interviews. And I’m not just talking about the annual “Car-Wash” events with corporate sponsor ESPN.
Closing access to the media is a gag-reflex for most coaches, but your league is in no position to allow it. Nick Saban, who has won five national championships since 2008, can do anything he wants.
Larry, you are NOT the SEC. Your football coaches should be out there preaching like evangelists.
Yet, the opposite is happening. Sumlin’s latest actions have only added to the league’s closed-door chorus.
Chip Kelly, hailed by many as the savior hire for UCLA, is also no friend to public relations. Some think he took the UCLA job just to get closer to the ghost of Greta Garbo.
After the bowl season, a prominent national writer for a prominent national media outlet sought to interview Kelly for a story. The writer was already on the West Coast and willing to meet Kelly at any time.
UCLA and Kelly said no.
Washington’s Chris Petersen, who may be your best coach, is also one of the least friendly with the media.
I’m not sure, Larry, you can afford coaches who don’t cooperate.
Look, I get it, we’re pond scum. The Bad Guys. The Fake News providers and crypt keepers for a dying industry. The Founding Fathers obviously got the amendments mixed up when they put us First. No way a Pac 12 notebook writer should rate ahead of “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
But a conference that went 1-8 in the bowls shouldn’t care. And it’s not really about us, it’s about you.
1: What is Kevin Sumlin afraid of?
2: What good did secrecy do him at Texas A&M? He not only hid star quarterback Johnny Manziel from the media, he hid him from campus. Manziel was allowed to take on-line classes to avoid dealing with all the distractions that, um, real life would always someday pose.
How was Manziel better served by being sheltered?
It’s popular to view the media as villains. We’re really not. We’re snarky, for sure, and pains in the asses. But we actually just work for the fans of the organizations we cover.
Yes, we write things that can be critical and are sometimes wrong, but we usually offer full retractions. Yes, we do investigative work and have to report on FBI probes and even coaches being fired and\or sued for sexual harassment. Mostly, though, we are really just free publicity.
I think Lev summed up that up in a follow-up tweet to Sumlin’s spring practice media restrictions.
Larry, your league is in a hole. It should quit digging. You are a smart guy, Harvard bred, with a golden touch. You were hired to be innovative and intuitive. You’ve always joked the problems you faced in college were easy compared to your old job of running the Women’s Tennis Association.
But maybe you were wrong.
You can’t control the mood swings of revenue-sport performance from year to year, but you can control this. You should implore that your coaches be amenable to, with obvious limitations, free publicity.
I know what Mike Tranghese, the former Big East Commissioner, would have done. He would have been on the phone today to Kevin Sumlin.
He would say what I have said: “Kevin, are you nuts?”
You can’t change the Pac 12’s image overnight, Larry, but you can shape it.
And, in certain cases like this, you need to bend it.