The pressure for college football coaches to win big has never been greater. Rebuilding years aren't as acceptable as they were in the past. If you can't cut it as a head coach in your first three or four seasons, you're out.
To that end, secrecy has become a bigger part of the game.
More and more coaches are trying to control the flow of information out of practices by limiting who gets to view them.
When Will Muschamp took over at Florida prior to the 2011 season, he closed practice to fans and media for the first time in school history. Gene Chizik clamped down on access at Auburn when he took over in 2009 and shut it down completely last season when things turned south.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is following the same path.
According to WFSM in Fort Smith, Ark., the first-year head coach of the Razorbacks has closed to the public all spring practices other than the spring game. Practices will be open to the media only on March 30, April 6 and April 13.
This is a direct contradiction to last season, when former head coach John L. Smith opened summer practice sessions to the public. Said Bielema:
This time will be one of the first opportunities we will have to come together as a team on the field and evaluation of our student-athletes during this period will be crucial. We will utilize this period to focus one step at a time on preparing for the fall.
Good for Bielema for locking it down to the public and allowing only limited media access. As a writer, I'd love more access, but allowing three open practice sessions and the spring game for media consumption at least gives the media a taste of what's going on.
If you were a college football head coach, would you close practice?
It allows accurate dissemination of some info through the media, while preventing specific personnel packages, formations and potential breakout stars from becoming known before the time is right.
College football is different than it was in the past. Coaches simply can't afford to run the risk of some of their secrets getting out before it's time to use them in game situations.
Will that anger some fans? Will that particularly anger big-money boosters, who donate under the assumption that they'll be given access that isn't afforded to everyone else?
Yep, but Bielema doesn't—and shouldn't—care.
If you put your personal desires in front of the greater good of the team you support, your priorities are out of whack.
It may be viewed as an unpopular move, but closing practices is the right thing to do. Good for Bielema for recognizing it and acting accordingly.