In another move that will likely endear him to the local media, USC head football coach Lane Kiffin announced that fall practices will be closed this season. Kiffin has been trying to close practices throughout his tenure at USC, and finally convinced whoever needed to be convinced that it was the right idea. This ends a spectacular history of media savvy and openness from USC. Obviously the university is situated in a media-centric city, and the second biggest media market in the country, but that doesn’t mean that USC had to be open. USC just was. It used to be the most media friendly program in all of college football, and due to sanctions or Lane Kiffin’s own prerogatives, it has gotten worse every year since his arrival.
This is another piece in the paranoid puzzle that is Lane Kiffin.
The media will be able to attend fall camp before the season starts, as well as interviews with players and coaches after practice has ended. "We've decided to finally follow the majority of all teams in college football and close our practices to the media during the season," Kiffin told the LA Times.
After Kiffin forbade the media from reporting on any player’s injuries last year, he has taken it a step further and completely excluded them from viewing practice at all. Does he really think that letting Gary Klein watch practice and write about it for the LA Times will put his team at a disadvantage? Maybe Lane should focus on coaching the team to a better record than 7-6 instead of worrying about what is written about it.
With USC closing its practices, it leaves only Cal and Oregon State who allow the media into theirs in the Pac 12. The only problem with that statement from Kiffin is that USC shouldn’t aspire to be like the rest of college football. It should have its own standards and stand on its own. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has what Kiffin presumably wants: A totally sealed practice, one hand-picked player with whom the media can speak after practice and no talking to assistant coaches, ever. But that’s Alabama, not USC.
Former USC head coach and professional hair model Pete Carroll was the archetype for the perfect USC coach. He was friendly, always upbeat and allowed any media and, most notably, fans to attend fall practice. How is that a bad thing? The media may see a player that is injured and report it, but the opposing team will need about 30 seconds to figure out the same news on the following Saturday. Allowing fans and media into practices only ingratiates yourself with the community and creates a team that the fans can actually get to know and want to support.
This is not a media issue involving cantankerous reporters who were spoiled by a previously open program. The people that this affects are not the media, it’s the general public. It puts an even higher value on speculation and rumor, instead of actual fact-based reporting. Without the ability to report on the practices themselves, the words “sources” and “apparent” will be some of the most used words in a USC reporter’s repertoire. The fans of USC are put at an inherent disadvantage because the people that they trust to report the news aren’t allowed in the door. The LA Times doesn’t even send reporters to USC and UCLA practices anymore because they are prevented from doing their jobs.
Kiffin told the LA Times, "it's my job to do what's best for our team." Does anyone else truly think open or closed practices has a tangible effect on wins and losses?
Time will tell if this is the best decision for USC. The NCAA rewards programs for their openness and transparency. USC did not cooperate with NCAA investigators in the Reggie Bush ordeal and they were made an example of. Oregon cooperated with their own investigation, albeit a much smaller violation accusation, but were publicly complimented by the NCAA afterwards and given a slap on the wrist. I’m not saying that USC will be under NCAA investigation anytime soon, but an open program is always better.
Alabama has closed practices and are probably used as a prime example of success in Kiffin’s mind. But Saban can do whatever he wants with his program because he’s won three national titles in four years, and no one will ever question his choices. Lane Kiffin and USC are coming off of an overhyped 2012 where his preseason No. 1 team finished outside the Top 25, with a bowl game loss to Georgia Tech and a 7-6 record. His choices deserve to be questioned. If the team is successful, the media will just accept the decisions and move on. If this year’s team isn’t successful, however, the backlash will be immense.