Last week, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini closed off media access to all practices, coaches, and players. Needless to say, in the dog days of August when the Sea of Red is hanging on every scrap of information from camp, Pelini's move garnered quite a bit of attention.
Pelini lifted the ban on Saturday, telling reporters that he wasn't happy about how "certain things" were handled. Pelini was never specific, but it was crystal clear that the primary motivator was how linebacker Sean Fisher's injury was handled.
Fisher broke his leg in practice, and word leaked out through internet postings of guests who had come to observe practice. Some reports had journalists calling Fisher's family to confirm the injury, as Fisher was on the operating table.
In response, Pelini slammed the doors to Memorial Stadium shut from Wednesday through Saturday for the media, saying that he wanted to "remove distractions" from his team as they prepared for the upcoming season.
Bullpuckey. I hope his players are more convincing at feinting blitzes than he is with that rationale.
The four-day ban wasn't about removing distractions. It was about reminding the media who cover NU football who was in charge. It was a warning shot across the bow of the assembled journalists: cross the line, make him mad, and he'll cut off your access and make sure you can't do your job.
Pelini has a job to do, and the primary part of that job is to make sure that NU wins as many games as possible. Obviously, Pelini believes that having an iron-fisted control of the media will help him achieve that goal. He's certainly not the only coach that believes that.
And given his current success and the passion for Nebraska football across the state and around the world, he can probably get away with quite a bit of it. Husker Nation wants its 'Husker coverage, and Pelini knows that he can dictate the terms of the media's access to that 'Husker coverage.
After all, it's not like the Omaha World-Herald or other media outlets are going to shift to more in-depth Omaha Nighthawks coverage if Nebraska makes it too difficult to cover the team.
But Pelini's power play with the media runs the risk of hurting him and the program in the long run. Pelini doesn't need the media because he and his team are on a high. But what happens if Nebraska would go on a three game losing skid, or would have another Lawrence Phillips-like media story?
Pelini can get away with his unprofessional behavior with the people covering the team last week when he's doing well, but what happens if the worm turns and Pelini needs some positive coverage to help get through a tough situation?
Think of it a different way. If it was another coach, one who was disliked by the fan base (we'll call him Cill Ballahan, just for discussion's sake) that issued a media blackout, what do you think the reaction would be?
To my unending amazement, fan reaction to the blackout was largely in Pelini's favor, with many taking great delight in Pelini's sticking it to "The Media." I have never and will never understand that reaction. The media is, well, the media that 'Husker fans use to get news about their team. Without "The Media," we wouldn't have stories to read and get excited about the upcoming season.
I find it VERY hard to believe that fans who delight in Pelini's torment of "The Media" would be very pleased if they couldn't read anything or watch anything about Nebraska football.
Ultimately, in ending the media blackout, Pelini put some new rules in place that he said should have been there from the start. The blackout turned out to be mostly a non-story, and Pelini again displayed one of his great strengths by taking part of the responsibility for the situation on himself.
And, up until this week, Pelini's media relations had been getting a lot better, culminating in Pelini's excellent handling of Big 12 media days and the inevitable barrage of questions about Nebraska's conference change.
But it always seems that Dark Pelini is always lurking under the surface, ready to pounce. In this instance, ultimately no damage was done. Let's all hope that it's a while before Dark Pelini makes another appearance, and that the damage done at his arrival is just as minimal.
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