What's the Benefit of Keeping College Football Freshmen from Talking to Media?
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Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt is now free to speak.
To the media.
Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy has a rule for first-year players: Keep your mouth shut if there's a reporter around.
A large majority of freshmen never have much reason to talk to the media unless someone wants to know how things are going on the scout team, but Lunt was a starting quarterback for five of the Cowboys' games last season.
Lunt probably had a lot to say about his leg injury in his game against Louisiana Lafayette or the concussion he received against Kansas State, but Gundy's media blackout on Lunt kept him silent.
Now he's free to speak to reporters, and he had plenty to say on Wednesday when the blackout was lifted. You can read about that here.
This whole freshman media blackout, however, is intriguing. Why does Gundy do this in the first place? Perhaps Gundy's past history with the media has something to do with it.
Gundy imposed a 10-day media blackout on the entire team right before the 2009 season got underway because he wanted the team to focus on its upcoming season opener against Georgia, according to ESPN's Tim Griffin:
When Gundy announced the 10-day blackout, he said it was intended to increase the team's sharpness for a game that most observers are calling the most ballyhooed opener in the school's history.
But if that were the case, Gundy's plan appears to have failed after two negative headlines in the last 24 hours.
Cornerback Perrish Cox, the only returning starter in the Cowboys' secondary, was arrested Friday night on speeding charges. During the traffic stop, Stillwater police found that Cox was driving with a suspended license. ...
Meanwhile, starting tight end Jamal Mosley...abruptly [quit] the team Tuesday morning for "personal reasons."
It came only a few days after he was placed under a restraining order that was filed last week in Payne County, Okla., by a Stillwater woman.
For what it's worth, Oklahoma State beat Georgia 24-10.
Gundy himself has had issues with the media. Gundy's famous "I'm a man" press conference rant in 2007—in which he went on a tirade against Oklahoma media, and specifically Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson—appeared to highlight his strong support for quarterback Bobby Reid.
But that outburst actually did more harm than good.
In an outstanding ESPN The Magazine feature by Tom Friend, Reid said he suffered humiliation after that famous rant:
Reid sank into depression. "He'd tell me, 'Bro', I cry myself to sleep almost every night,'" says fullback John Johnson.
Gundy certainly appears to distrust the media, and while you may agree or disagree with his decision to withhold first-year players from media access, there can be benefits.
Kids say dumb things. So do adults, but knowing what to say and how to say it to a reporter who's dying to get some juicy details on the team doesn't always get taught at the high school level. In fact, unless the kid is an elite recruit, most of his interactions with reporters have been with recruiting media outlets who are in the business of printing good news.
The big four recruiting media outlets—247Sports, Max Preps, Rivals and Scout—rely heavily on subscriptions for revenue. Fans don't want to pay money to constantly read bad press about their favorite team, so for the most part, readers can enjoy good news about their team's recruiting efforts and read feature stories loaded with reporters' softball questions.
Is Gundy's media blackout on first-year players beneficial?
The recruits are high school kids, most of them teenagers, and they're usually handled with kid gloves by the media. But that changes at the college level.
Texas A&M freshman quarterback and 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel had a phenomenal season last year, but his off-the-field antics did raise some eyebrows in the national media. Recently, Manziel took to Twitter to defend his Longhorns tattoo, and he mixed it up with a few fans. In the heat of the moment, kids can say some things that they'll eventually regret, but on Twitter and other social media sites, those quotes are captured forever. Tweets can be deleted, but screen grabs keep them immortalized.
Gundy understands the pros and cons of media interaction, so by banning a first-year player from that interaction, he's supposedly giving the kid a chance to learn from other players' mistakes, as well as from those who handle media pressure with aplomb.
His reasoning has merit because, as an underclassman matures, he learns how to control his emotions and refrain from exited utterances that can undermine team chemistry or, worse, get his school in hot water.
Many kids think they're immortal. They also think that the world of college football fans is filled with warm fuzzies—if they make a mistake, all will be forgiven. But after a high school career filled with glowing adoration from cheerleaders and bags full of scholarship offers, the harsh world of adulthood kicks in.
You're no longer a kid. A school is paying big money for you to be part of its image. The stakes are higher, and the pressure is greater. Football is no longer just a game; it's big business.
Whether you agree or disagree with Gundy's media blackout on first-year players, remember this: Each player doesn't have to worry about hard questions after a loss, and he doesn't have to spend valuable time talking to reporters when he could be studying.
More than anything else, he's learning that, while he may have been a blue-chip prospect coming out of high school, at Oklahoma State, he's just another member of the team who has to pay his dues and avoid the spotlight. His bonding with the team, rather than with the team's beat reporters or national media, takes precedence.
For Mike Gundy, no news is good news.
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