For the third straight year now, I'm writing Athlon's Missouri preview. It's due this coming week (barring any last-second injury or defection news), and ... damned if I haven't hardly learned a single thing about the Tigers this spring. It's a frustrating feeling. How are Ish Witter and Trevon Walters looking? No idea. Receivers not named Chris Black? Couldn't tell you. How's the battle between John Gibson and Logan Cheadle coming along? Haven't the foggiest clue.
Am I entitled to any of this information? Hell, no. And my SB Nation team previews have been going on since before spring ball even started -- clearly I can piece some words together without information of this nature.
But it definitely feels different when it's your own team. Let's just say that I could understand what Dave Matter said in a Post-Dispatch chat the other day. I know some will see this as self-pitying reporter talk or whatever, and I guess it is to some degree (he would probably even admit that), but that doesn't make the sentiment untrue.
They have 14 practices before the spring game. Media can attend seven. Under Pinkel, we could attend all 14. Up until 2013, we could stay for the entire practice and report on all details of practice. Then they changed policy making us leave after about 30 minutes and prohibited the reporting of anything that happens in practice. We could still cover the scrimmages and write about them as if they were a game - but we can no longer attend spring scrimmages, except for the Black and Gold Game. When we can only attend half the practices, that means we can only write half the stories - at least for an outlet like the P-D that has only one reporter at practice. They assign certain position groups for interviews each day - the first day we could talk to quarterbacks and linebackers - but not every player is always willing to do interviews and there's not much time to talk to the coaches and players who are available. For the most part, restricted media access greatly marginalizes our coverage and forces everyone to essentially write the same story each day. I understand wanting to keep schemes/plays/strategies under cover, but spring football coverage is usually 100 percent positive angles, and in my opinion schools like Mizzou that restrict access are missing out on free publicity by limiting the exposure. It's not uncommon around the SEC.
"For the most part, restricted media access greatly marginalizes our coverage and forces everyone to essentially write the same story each day." Though we've changed this up a bit with Oscar sometimes covering practices in person, my own approach to practices for this site has been one of amalgamating and curating -- I used to really enjoy pulling up all of the practice reports from Mizzou's beat writers, scrolling through the previous day's tweets, and seeing if I could pull in an interesting tidbit about each position unit. I usually could.
Now the coverage has basically been, "It was offensive line day, so here are nine pieces about Missouri's problematic offensive line depth." That, along with news of players quitting/retiring, is basically all we've learned about the team this spring.
Missouri is blessed with an incredible, deep selection of beat writers. They have almost nothing interesting to write. And here's why that's a problem:
"I understand wanting to keep schemes/plays/strategies under cover, but spring football coverage is usually 100 percent positive angles, and in my opinion schools like Mizzou that restrict access are missing out on free publicity by limiting the exposure." Missouri is in the process of sending out daily emails about season ticket sales. The Tigers are coming off of a poor season and in November went through some unique circumstances that, rightfully or not (I of course lean very much toward the latter), turned off a good portion of the fan base.
Spring football stories are typically a cavalcade of "Freshman A looks to break through" and "Injured Player B is making up for lost time" and "Senior C looks to take advantage of his final opportunity." Everybody is hopeful and optimistic in the spring, and no optimism can be proven wrong yet. Sure, there are injury reports and players quitting and possible negative story lines here and there. But it's fish-in-a-barrel positivity for the most part. Seems like that could be useful in selling tickets.
"It's not uncommon around the SEC." If there's one thing I can completely back up in Dave's statement above, it's this. Missouri is just following a trend here. Schools are shutting out local beat writers more and more. They take whatever national coverage is given to them, and with their deeper roster of multimedia people and website capabilities, they just try to do the rest themselves. And they get away with it because others are doing it too.
Are opponents truly going to glean something advantageous from three minutes of scrimmage highlights making their way to the internet (instead of the 15 seconds that we saw last week)? Doubtful. But if your conference rival isn't giving something away, why should you? Call it a negative effect of conference-wide networks. If you're already giving a lot of access and information away to the SECN, you probably don't want to give away any more.
Again, we're entitled to none of this. Just because we've gotten it in the past doesn't mean we deserve it moving forward. I do feel bad for Missouri's beat writers, though; as a whole, they have proven to be an even-handed, empathetic bunch. I read a lot of beat writers' work, and Mizzou's people are in the 95th percentile. They can do great work, and with my fan hat on, I hate that I don't get to read it.
My default close here was simply going to be to say "None of this matters if Missouri wins in the fall." And that's 99% true. Beat West Virginia in the season opener, and positivity won't be a problem. Finally beat Georgia at home a couple of weeks later, and fan energy will go back through the roof. In 2013, after all, Mizzou went into a bit of a media shell following the disappointing previous season, then emerged with one of its happiest, most heartening autumns ever.
Spring energy doesn't last anyway. Just win, baby. Et cetera.
But Mizzou is in an especially unique PR position right now. The more glimpses you can give of a functional, energetic, rebounding program at a time when most alums' final taste was "5-7 and race controversy," the better it probably works out for you in terms of ticket sales and donations. It's a small battle when Mizzou is fighting larger ones, but it's a battle nonetheless.