The University of Washington’s football program forgets that it’s part of a public institution.
The program informed news organizations this week that it will no longer allow journalists to report on strategy or injuries that happen during practice. Also, players and coaches will not comment on injuries.
The UW had already limited media access to practice this year, cutting access from four weekly practices to two. It has also informed news organizations that it considers game-time online chats an infringement of multimedia rights. Reporters are prohibited from sending more than 45 tweets during a football game, even though fans can send an unlimited number of social media updates.
If violated, press credentials can be revoked and reporters can be barred from practice.
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This is the behavior of a fiefdom. This policy is actually more restrictive than the NFL, which is required to make an injury report Wednesday through Friday, and makes no such restrictions on social media or live chats.
It’s the behavior of a middling team that went 7-6 in 2011. The University of Alabama, which won the national championship in 2011, discloses player injuries.
The UW athletic department likes to sing that it is financially self-supporting. That may be true for operating expenses. But the university is funded by taxpayers.
The UW’s responsibility includes teaching student journalists in the Department of Communication that they should expect open access to public institutions.
Closed practices gave former coach Jim Lambright cover to lie.
In 1996, player Rashaan Shehee suffered a foot injury that coaches did not disclose throughout the entire week leading up to a game. When Shehee did not play, Lambright said Shehee suffered an injury during practice. Shehee was actually injured the prior weekend when he jumped off a balcony at a Lake City apartment after a dispute at an off-campus party.
After the revelation that the coach had covered up the injury and the cause, the UW opened practice to the media, and by extension, the fans.
When he was hired, current coach Steve Sarkisian portrayed himself as the opposite of former coach Tyrone Willingham, who was also known for limiting access. Sarkisian suggested he would throw the doors open. Media access is now more restrictive than it was during Willingham’s tenure.
The state Legislature must reverse its draconian cuts in higher education funding, a message The Seattle Times editorial board has championed. It would be great if the UW football program made itself worthy of that support.
Information in this article, originally published at 5:14 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2012, was corrected at 8:33 p.m. on Sept. 15, 2012. A previous version incorrectly referred to the University of Washington’s Department of Communication as the School of Communications.