On Monday, Oregon confirmed that spring football practice would be closed for the first time ever. It’s not an entirely surprising move, since Chip Kelly has been steadily limiting practice access since prior to the BCS championship game last year. I don’t know the man personally, but he seems like the kind of guy who despises distractions, is obsessed with football, and is a bit of a control freak. You know, just like every other successful head coach in the history of college football. Let’s just say that if you’re at all shocked by this news, you haven’t been paying attention.
Speaking of unsurprising, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian is not happy about this change. All of the things I love about his writing are on display here: the references to how this will make his job more difficult, the obsession with the lack of injury reports coming from Coach Kelly, and the laughable notion that he’s doing this for the fans. Much like his co-worker John Canzano, anything Fentress writes that is not straight news has now become paint-by-numbers.
My favorite line in this piece is “Having practice open for the media allows us to present the team to our readers, who are fans.” This reminds of me Reverend Lovejoy’s wife on The Simpsons, constantly screaming “Won’t somebody think of the children?” Really, I think the fans can take care of themselves. If we’re unhappy with the direction of the team, we’ll probably just speak with our wallets. But since we’re still buying tickets (in record numbers), purchasing memorabilia (in record numbers) and donating to the DAF (in record numbers) I’d venture to say most of us are fairly happy with our Oregon football experience.
The next move for one of the local media outlets (my money is on Canzano) is to give us a story from a fan that only got to see the Ducks at practice because he can’t afford tickets. Well, speaking as a guy who hasn’t always been able to afford tickets AND has lived too far away to go to any practices, at least all of the games (including the spring game) are televised. Oh, and if you’re writing that story, stop. Seriously. Focus on a real problem.
Plus, we’re not really missing anything if some of these writers aren’t able to “present the team” to their readers. After all, we’re talking about a group of people who insisted LaMichael James was slower in 2011 than he was in previous seasons and that it was negatively affecting his performance. If that’s the kind of talent evaluation we’ll be missing this spring, I’m okay with that.
Nowhere does Fentress attempt to address the possible reasons why Kelly would close spring practice. It seems he’d like us to believe that Chip is petty and unnecessarily paranoid. Of course this is the same writer who wrote a “LaMichael James will declare for the NFL draft” column without even so much as a “No comment” from the James camp, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he didn’t do anything that doesn’t fit the narrative.
Now, I’m just a dumb fan blogging from my mom’s basement, but even I could come up with a few legit reasons why closing spring practice makes sense from a competitive stand point.
1. It fosters team unity. “Us against the world” is a powerful mantra in sports today.
2. It increases focus. The fewer the distractions, the better the work.
3. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Oregon needs to figure out who its next quarterback is going to be. Apparently Darron Thomas left for the NFL, so Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota are going to battle it out for the starting job. Now I know that most journalists like to insist that they’re impartial, but let’s face it, controversy sells, and if you have a good quarterback controversy, you have a license to print money, as it were.
So when you have two young guys unaccustomed to the spotlight, it might be a good idea to take the pressure off by limiting media access to them and keeping the unending analysis of all of their flaws out of the news.
4. The Oregon football program is more popular than ever. This is a good thing because it also means the Oregon football program is more successful than ever. But from an event operations standpoint, these spring practices could get out of hand. The more people that attend practice just to watch, the more you stress your facilities, from security to parking to restrooms to trash pick-up. If even one percent of the population of Autzen Stadium attends these practices, it could quickly become an unnecessary logistical nightmare.
I don’t pretend to speak for all Oregon fans, but I can honestly say that this is a non-issue for me. I like watching Oregon win, and if Chip Kelly thinks closing practice will increase the likelihood that Oregon wins more in the fall, then I’m all for it. And if Steve Sarkisian or Mike Riley wants to close practice too, fine by me. I dislike the Huskies and Beavers as much as any Duck fan, but even I’m not going to seriously suggest that they have something to hide by doing so. That would be ridiculous.
There are a lot of things I love that don’t grant me access to their practices. Pearl Jam, good food, Batman movies…doesn’t make me love them any less. And don’t worry about Aaron Fentress and the local media. They all have sources deep within the program, so I’m sure they’ll know exactly what’s going on at these closed practices.