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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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August 20, 2008 7:17 PM

Ducks heading into bunker

Posted by Bob Condotta

With just 10 days left until kickoff, Oregon is joining the Huskies in the cloak of secrecy, beginning to close off practices to the media and public.

Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard reports on the news of Oregon's scrimmage tomorrow being closed. The Oregon sports information department also explains the closures in this blog post here.

Posting this will lead to inevitable questions about open and closed practices at UW, some of which I've already gotten in recent days, so I'll address the topic here.

What Oregon is doing is actually what I think most of us who cover UW would like the Huskies to do --- be open, or pretty close to open, during spring practice and the beginning of fall camp, when there is really very little gameplanning going on, but maybe get more restrictive once the season nears.

As a reporter, I would always like more openness, and I could always point out that USC is essentially open all year to everybody and that hasn't seemed to hurt them a whole lot the last few years.

But given the reality that some closure is to be expected by most programs anymore, I think what most of us who cover the Huskies would like is simply a few more opportunities during the spring and early camp to watch the team, especially the new players who may not see the field for a few years and who you'll never see otherwise until then. UW has been pretty much closed the past year, opening up a couple of practices in the spring and only one during fall camp --- the first day, which by rule has to be a no-pads practice and by nature features little other than basic drills.

The Huskies are also closing things down as game time nears more than they have in past years, closing all of tomorrow's practice (not even opening up for 25 minutes) as well as next Wednesday and Thursday. I think all of us who cover the team understand the importance of the opening game and maybe that's all this is --- a reaction to the importance of the first game.

All those of us in the media really want is a little better understanding of the team to pass along to fans, though I get it that a lot of fans may see us as simply wanting to spill all the team's secrets.

There's a famous story out there about Don James closing practice after a reporter went against his wishes in disclosing an injury to QB Cary Conklin in 1989 (I'm not sure it's really ever been accurately portrayed, but that's for another day). Left untold are a lot of other times reporters went along with wishes of Husky coaches of past (including Jim Lambright and Rick Neuheisel during times I covered the team) and didn't write about things we saw that might have affected the game plan.

Receiver Charles Frederick, for instance, practiced at cornerback the entire week before the 2002 game at Arizona State when Roc Alexander was suddenly lost for the season. Neuheisel, who had met with the regular beat guys before taking over to discuss his media policies, pointed out that we wouldn't have seen it if practice hadn't been open and asked if we could just leave that out until after the game had been played. We all did, though it didn't matter much as Arizona State beat UW 27-16 and Neuheisel ultimately turned to another young player --- some guy named Nate Robinson --- to fill in for Alexander, with Frederick never seeing the field on defense that night and never again trying his hand at defense. It ended up being a tiny note in this story here on the day after the game.

Obviously, the nature of the beast has changed, as Moseley points out in his post, and you really can't compare eras due to the advances in technology which have altered the ways all of us communicate. Still, seems like there's a happy medium that can be reached, and it's worth noting that every other school in the Pac-10 has at least some spring or fall practices open to the public and media.

UW's increasingly closed-down ways of the last few years have led to some questions of comparisons between Husky teams past and present. Having not been around for the James era, I don't have any personal experience to bring to that topic.

I do have many Husky media guides dating back to the '70s and I can say that James' home number was included in the media guide as late as 1988, as were the home numbers for every other coach on the staff and virtually every other member of the athletic department, with the media apparently invited to call whenever they needed. And as far as I know, until the Conklin incident in 1989, most everything the team did was essentially open. Even at that, the 1991 media guide gives the times for all practices throughout the season and a method for media to obtain passes to watch practice as well as noting that players would be available before and after practice from Monday-to-Thursday for interviews. The 1991 media guide also states that James had one hour of every weekday set aside for interviews by appointment. I doubt he did that many, but he was apparently available as needed during that time.

I can state that Neuheisel was mostly open, as well, during his UW tenure, and while Keith Gilbertson closed things down a little more during his reign (initially saying that he thought the 2003 team needed some privacy given the controversy of that summer) the team's practices then were mostly open during the spring and fall camp, closing after the first 30 minutes once the season began.

As for Oregon and UW this year, sounds as if each hopes the other finds out as little about the other as possible. I still have a feeling the Ducks are probably preparing for Jake Locker at quarterback and the Huskies are probably thinking the Ducks may run a few plays out of the spread.

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