They are another reason to distrust college football and basketball, as if you didn't need another one. They are the latest device invented by college coaches to manipulate the media and squeeze the personalities out of what the NCAA laughingly refer to as "student-athletes."
Professional coaches and athletes are control freaks, too.
They employ an army of gofers, go-betweens, lackeys and buffers--otherwise known as agents, publicists and schedulers--to prevent their clients from being soiled by controversy and keep their public image as squeaky clean as Mickey Mouse.
But let's focus on colleges.
There was a time when the media could walk into a locker room before and after practice and after games and be accorded access to any athlete, even Dick Butkus. You didn't have to call a public relations flak to request an interview, explain what you wanted to talk about, then wait for a puff of white smoke from the coach's tower.
I recall in the early 1970s when I covered the NBA playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. After the first game in the Forum, I recall how overwhelmed I was when I was told I had unfettered access to the Lakers' locker room. Imagine walking into a room and seeing Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Gail Goodrich sitting in front of their lockers, waiting for a sportswriter from Chicago to ask some questions.
No posses, no entourages, no 50-watt radio stations, no media frenzy.
A public relations person at a Big Ten university recently informed a sportswriter from a major metropolitan newspaper that he wouldn't be granted access to the head football coach unless the article was to be positive. They only want positive articles, no negative ones, the writer was told.
Another sportswriter attempted to gain access to a Big Ten football coach for a story that his public relations flak interpreted as "too controversial." The coach never returned a call.
College coaches keep such a tight lid on their players that sometimes parents can't even contact their sons.
A writer calls a public relations person to request an interview with an athlete. If the story is dubbed to be good publicity for the program, the interview is granted. But if the writer or his media outlet hasn't had a good relationship with the coach...well, don't wait by the phone.
Has anybody ever asked these kids if they'd like to talk for themselves?