After college spring games have wrapped up across the country and football programs head into the summer lull, a strange season of public relations blunders begins. With more time on their hands, college football players are more likely to get into trouble, a pattern that has not gone unnoticed by sports writers. There are even websites with police blotters tracking how many days expire without a student-athlete being arrested. Even football coaches are far from immune to troublemaking, and it’s usually a result of touring the alumni circuit, which occurs more frequently during the off-season when time is more readily available.
Current Penn State head coach James Franklin was once forced to apologize after a misogynistic joke he told on a local Nashville radio station while head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife. If she looks the part, and she’s a D-I recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal.”
LSU head coach Les Miles took a shot at a high school athlete when former #1 quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel decommitted from the Tigers and signed with Notre Dame instead. Miles told LSU fans at the annual “Bayou Bash” that Kiel lacked “the chest and the ability to lead” his program. In a related accusation of cowardice, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke made news last summer for telling Wolverine fans at the West Michigan Sports Commission that Notre Dame was “chickening” out of playing the Big Ten program into the future.
Whether it’s a student-athlete arrested for making a poor decision or a head coach engaging in bravado for an alumni base, there’s ample opportunity to cause trouble. And, at times, the pot-stirring can even extend to the media seeking stories to fill the void left from the absence of football.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly recently discussed the state of the Fighting Irish program to college football writer and FOX Sports analyst Bruce Feldman on Feldman’s podcast. Kelly covered a host of different issues, including Notre Dame’s future series with the Texas Longhorns, its desire to schedule an SEC opponent, and the ACC partnership set to begin this fall. Kelly detailed the pros and cons of Notre Dame’s relationship with the ACC, stating the deal made the Irish’s athletic department “whole” but also made football scheduling more complicated than it had been in the past. It was a routine interview one would expect to hear take place during the summer when little else is going on.
“Is Notre Dame football getting a raw deal with ACC Partnership?” writes Kevin McGuire of CollegeFootball Talk, a college football news website. McGuire references Brian Kelly’s interview with Feldman, pointing out Kelly’s comments that football scheduling is less flexible under the new ACC partnership.
“So is Notre Dame football getting the raw deal here? Hardly. The Irish can take advantage of the ACC’s bowl tie-ins under certain circumstances and will benefit by having that exposure in the east and southeast in addition to the west coast and any other national opponents Notre Dame ends up scheduling,” McGuire concludes.
At no point during Kelly’s interview did he explicitly state or imply that Notre Dame felt it was getting a “raw deal” from its ACC partnership. Such phrasing was never used, and one has to wonder: Out of all the potential talking points discussed during the interview – such as Notre Dame’s desire to schedule an SEC program – why did McGuire focus solely on Kelly’s statement that the scheduling was now more difficult? With USC, Stanford and Navy locked in every season, and with five ACC opponents to be played annually, Kelly’s statement regarding Notre Dame’s schedule was not only accurate but previously well documented.
Simply put, equating Kelly’s innocuous comment about scheduling difficulties to mean Notre Dame feels it received a “raw deal” from the ACC – which it doesn’t – is such a leap in logic that, at its best, it’s deliberately misleading, and at its worst it’s an intentional hatchet job to generate a headline.
No reasonable sports writer would ever imply or rhetorically ponder whether Notre Dame landed a “raw deal” with the ACC. In fact, most sports writers within ACC territory lamented what a great deal the Irish received. John Feinstein of the Washington Post discussed the topic in an article literally titled, “In Notre Dame deal, ACC got short end of the stick.” Feinstein wrote, “Let’s give credit to Notre Dame where it is due: When it comes to deal-making no one does it better than the Irish.” He concluded by arguing Notre Dame was “laugh[ing] all the way to the bank.”
Luke DeCock of the Charlotte Observer also believed Notre Dame received the better part of the agreement, though he stated he felt the ACC stands to benefit from the partnership. DeCock described the agreement as “controversial”, “unusual” and “one-sided in Notre Dame’s favor.”
Headline-seeking articles such as the one posted by CollegeFootball Talk are not new. ThePostGame.com published an article criticizing Notre Dame’s “Pot of Gold” recruiting strategy as a “gimmick” designed to draw attention to the program’s NFL draft history despite numerous factual errors, such as naming the wrong recruits within the article. ThePostGame’s coverage was made all the less credible when they failed to cover the report that Alabama had been sending fliers to recruits with copies of NFL paystubs and the number fifty-one million listed in bold to highlight how much current Crimson Tide players are making in the NFL (though, oddly enough, ThePostGame did have time to write an article titled “New Issue of GQ Sizzles: Shirtless Tim Tebow” during the same timeframe).
During the summer dead period, it’s expected that mistakes will be made. Student-athletes are young and coaches have an alumni base to galvanize. But sports writers should refrain from becoming a part of the story by joining in on the shenanigans of the subjects they cover.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.