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.
We at @PFWAwriters have inquired about Bills' practice policy, but fairly certain no Ws and Ls determined in tweets about dropped passes.
— Jeff Legwold (@Jeff_Legwold) May 24, 2016
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.
The Bills new media policy is pathetic, backwards, and hurts the amazing & passionate Bills fans who crave information. Sad.
— Adam Schein (@AdamSchein) May 24, 2016
Ridiculous. No reporter should adhere to this nonsense. Bills media: Text me INTs, drops, etc. I'll tweet them https://t.co/1nuXH7OnV3
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) May 24, 2016
#Bills come up with perhaps the single dumbest media policy I have ever seen. Seriously.
— Jason Cole (@JasonColeBR) May 24, 2016
— Jason Cole (@JasonColeBR) May 24, 2016
The reason why the Bills haven't made the playoffs in a gazillion years is because the media leaks dropped pass stats from May camps.
— Travis Yost (@travisyost) May 24, 2016
It’s rather embarrassing, especially as opposing teams adopt media relations practices that are generating praise.
The Falcons have a really awesome group of media relations folks who make cool stuff like this possible https://t.co/MoOhLbax5k
— ryan van bibber (@justRVB) May 24, 2016
The #Falcons are actually inviting reporters in to a room to watch film with coaches and enhance their understanding of the team.
— The SUPERBOWLoholic (@TheFalcoholic) May 24, 2016
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?