In an interview with Eric Olson of the Associated Press, Bo Pelini talked about yesterday's practice and what led him to close practices the rest of the week. At yesterday's practice, linebacker Sean Fisher broke his leg and cornerback Anthony Blue injured his ACL. Both are out for the season, Pelini said this evening.
What set Pelini off was that reporters contacted Fisher's family as well as his high school coaches for updates last evening, even as Fisher was still being treated in the hospital. He felt that was out of line, and he wanted to send a message to the media that this wasn't the way to handle it.
However, Pelini's actions probably were counterproductive to his intent. I'm not about to defend the actions of the reporters who looked outside the Nebraska athletic department for information. But that's exactly what happens when information isn't forthcoming from official sources.
The story didn't even originate in the media, but rather on an internet message board. A friend of one of the members of the coaching staff observed practice, and posted it on the internet. And of course, it spread like wildfire from there. The news media had no choice but to try to follow up and confirm the story. With no comment from the athletic deparment, they had to look elsewhere for their information.
Nebraska football is a big deal, and when anything happens around the program, it's news. In this age of the internet, it's nearly impossible to keep everything a secret. Add to that the immense interest in Husker football, every media outlet has allocated significant resources to covering it. Shutting off the media's access to players and coaches doesn't affect that; it just means that the media has to look elsewhere for their information. It's what fans expect. That's why you came to this web site...looking for information and commentary about the Huskers. It's why fans listen to sports talk shows. It's why Nebraska's radio contract includes regular interviews with Husker coaches and why those shows originate from Memorial Stadium.
Seriously, what else should the media do during this ban? Go cover the Omaha Royals? Maybe do a preview of hunting season? How about Omaha's new indoor soccer team? Seriously. Fans not only want Husker football coverage, they demand it.
Mike Babcock, now of Huskers Illustrated, wrote this evening about the rules surrounding media access. Bo Pelini certainly had the right to be upset at how yesterday's injuries were disclosed. But Pelini needs to look towards his own staff and come up with a process to manage the flow of information. Fifteen years ago, you could hold a story down by refusing to say anything to the media. Not anymore. Now the information will simply emerge elsewhere, and if it emerges elsewhere, you aren't in control of the story anymore.
That's what happened yesterday. That may be what happened the week before when Taylor Martinez wasn't at practice. Pelini doesn't have to disclose everything, but if the information is going to come out, Pelini needs to disclose the information before it comes out from elsewhere.
The injury to Anthony Blue is especially discouraging; he initially tore his ACL in the spring of 2008, and it took more than a year to recover from it. Now he's injured again, and who knows how long he'll be out, or whether he'll ever be able to recover. Could he be back and play as a senior next season? Perhaps, though he may have missed too much time. A medical hardship might give him a sixth season, but we'll have to wait and see how he recovers from this. It's such a shame since he was one of the few bright spots on defense in that 2007 season.