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Notre Dame's New Media Restrictions: Another Side of the Argument

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NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

While Notre Dame's new media access policies may be an overreaction, as many have said, it's also important to think about what they might be a reaction to.

The quantity of sports journalism and sports commentary has increased exponentially in the last 20 years, while the overall quality has diminished. Hobbyists and students are responsible for the considerable majority of published sports content nowadays, and as writers they are an uneven lot. At least two thirds — and here I think I'm being conservative — of the sports articles that are put out these days wouldn't have gotten published 20 years ago.

One of the reasons for concern, as many posters have mentioned, is uncontrolled dissemination of "secret" information about formations, plays and the like. However, there are others.

There is an increasingly large portion of current commentary that is abusive, and often relentlessly so. A good op-ed writer will strike a balance between positive and negative commentary. But again, many of the people writing these days aren't particularly good writers. Many are out to make a name for themselves the lazy way, with one negative hot take after another, looking for whatever spin they can they can put on a sound or video bite that will bring attention to themselves.

So, it may not be just a matter of limiting direct access to those writers who can be trusted to be responsible, it may also be a matter of limiting the access to the information that responsible writers put out to other, less responsible, writers.

Navy v Notre Dame Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Suppose a program allows unlimited filming of practice, by any reporter invited. A reporter goes over the film and publishes mistakes a player makes, along with a few hundred words about how this player needs to pick up his game. That player might see 10,000 words written about what a terrible player he is by the following morning, with strings of comments from coast to coast bashing him, his team, his coaches, his fellow students and/or his university.

How much of this is too much? These are young men, some still teenagers. If we saw a group of 20- and 30-somethings verbally abusing an 18-year-old kid to his face, in public, would we say that the First Amendment guaranteed them the right, so go right ahead and abuse him, or would we tell them to back the hell off?

We need to think about the ramifications of all the negative commentary. Is it reasonable to attempt to limit the amount of filming of practice, not to "keep secrets" but to protect the players from abuse? Why do writers expect to be respected, if as a whole so many are disrespectful? It isn't fair to lump everyone together, it is true, but it is also true that conscientious writers as a group haven't done anything to differentiate themselves from those who are less so. How do the programs strike the right balance, if writers themselves haven't?

Perhaps an even larger problem is that news isn't fact-checked with the same care that it was 20 years ago. We need look no further than the recent incident involving Tim Brando for an example.

On May 12, Brando was a guest speaker on a podcast at LouisvilleSportsLive.net. On that podcast (at 17:30), he was asked why he believed that Notre Dame would eventually join the ACC in football. Brando responded "I've talked to a number of people … I just can't name them, but I've talked to a number of people at Notre Dame that I have full faith in, and they've indicated to me that the conversations have taken place." He then spent several minutes explaining (again) the reasons for his opinion that Notre Dame would eventually join the ACC.

Now, it seems pretty clear that Brando was implying that he had inside information that Notre Dame was in talks to join the ACC. However, he stopped short of actually saying so: he said that the conversations "have taken" place, not that they "were taking" place. (Of course the conversations took place. And when they did, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the ACC came up with the arrangement that they have now. Whether they talked about it after that, he didn't say, probably because they didn't.)

After the podcast, a tweet went out from LouisvilleSportsLive, saying "conversations have taken place about potentially joining the #ACC for football." That was enough for quite a few "news outlets." Titles such as "Notre Dame talking to ACC about joining in football: report" and "Report: Notre Dame in Talks to Join ACC Full Time" flew out over the blogosphere within a couple of days. Four days later, Jack Swarbrick made a public — and duly reported — statement that there was no truth to the rumor.

Of course, there was plenty of skepticism about this story all along, and I didn't see any professionals who took the bait. But the point is that a large number of outlets reported this as news, without checking the facts.

Now suppose, in a practice, Joe Linebacker goes down, holding his knee, and a writer tweets "Joe Linebacker is down, holding his knee." Within 24 hours, we will see any number of articles quoting this tweet, and saying that Joe is down with a knee injury. Never mind that Joe got up one minute later, was fine, and nobody tweeted that out. Twenty-four hours after that, after the coaches make a public statement that Joe Linebacker is just fine, the same outlets will report that fact with equal gusto.

What should a program do about this? Perhaps ask reporters not to report injuries until they're officially acknowledged? Perhaps ban Twitter posts during practice sessions? After all, Twitter seems to be the source of most of the knee-jerk comments in the world these days.

If a swarm of lazy writers will jump on any rumor bandwagon and report it as news, then might this be a reason for programs' recently more restrictive behavior? If so, then perhaps working with the programs to find ways to differentiate legitimate journalists from writers who don't hold themselves to professional standards would be productive. Writing op-eds and tweeting about why it's such a bad idea for them to limit media access probably isn't.