ORCHARD PARK, NY – May 18: Sammy Watkins #14 of Buffalo Bills pulls in a pass during the Buffalo Bills rookie minicamp on May 18, 2014 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

We’re reminded all too often that the NFL is basically an autocratic alliance of 32 autocratic organizations. Tuesday’s reminder? The new media guidelines unveiled by the Buffalo Bills, which forbid reporters from “referencing plays run or game strategy, including trick plays or unusual formations” and from “reporting on personnel groupings, sub-packages, players who are practicing with individual units (first-team, second team, goal line, offense, nickel defense, etc.), special plays, who is rushing the passer, dropped passes, interceptions, QB completion percentage, etc.”

What’s the point in even allowing the media to attend practice at all? League rules obviously require teams to do so, but this type of censorship completely violates the spirit of the NFL’s media policies. What’s more, it does a huge disservice to fans. Without being allowed to report on personnel groupings, sub-packages, players who are practicing with individual units, interceptions and dropped passes, what are reporters left to report? It would immediately become rather dishonest to report only on the developments that are flattering for all Bills players involved, which suggests that under these rules the media will only have the ability to honestly report who is practicing and who isn’t. And that type of information comes in team handouts anyway.

For all intents and purposes, the Bills have banned legitimate reporting from practices, which flies in the face of the league’s practice reporting policy:

Setting reasonable ground rules for coverage of practice – subject to the general access rules specified above – is the responsibility of the clubs. For practice sessions during training camp and minicamp that are open to the public, there should be a balance that addresses publicity for our teams, the role of media in serving our fans, and the goals and procedures set by individual teams. As such, we require that at least for practice sessions that are open to the public – and subject to guidelines set by clubs on the reporting of strategy – clubs must allow reporting (tweeting, blogging, etc.) of newsworthy events, such as VIP visitors to practice, exceptional catches, standout rookie performers, etc.

Professional Football Writers of America president Jeff Legwold tweeted Tuesday that the organization has inquired about the policy while alluding to how ridiculously excessive it appears to be.

That’s the perspective we all need here. The Bills have to realize that aspects of a more open policy couldn’t possibly put the team at a perceptible competitive disadvantage. If anything, it could be construed that a desperate team — mired in a 16-year playoff drought — is grasping at straws in order to gain an edge by keeping every single piece of practice minutiae private.

The silliest part, though, might be that the Bills actually thought they could get away with this. The criticism stemming from such a comically oppressive policy surely outweighs whatever the Bills feel they’d gain from instituting said policy in the first place.

It’s rather embarrassing, especially as opposing teams adopt media relations practices that are generating praise.


Now, when the Bills are inevitably forced to loosen up some of these restrictions, they’ll have suffered several days’ worth of mockery with nothing to show for it.

So Bills, right?

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com, a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at CBSSports.com, Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Comeback Media, but his day gig has him covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report.

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