By Bryce Huffman
Two-thirds of the Central Michigan University athletic department’s total revenue comes from student tuition, and head coach Dan Enos is paid to talk to media. Despite that, the athletic department frequently censors what student and professional journalists can ask about at press conferences.
Take, for instance, a press conference following CMU football’s 40-3 loss to Syracuse on Sept. 13.
Reporters were scribbling notes and questions in their notepads and getting their recording devices ready to hear what head coach Dan Enos thought about the game, but especially about the absence of star running back Thomas Rawls.
Rawls, who had rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-17 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers the week prior, was suspended for reasons unbeknownst to the media at the time.
Before media could begin asking questions, Rob Wyman, director of athletics communications, to speak to reporters before the coaches entered the room.
Wyman told the reporters that they were not allowed to ask about Rawls, who had been suspended the day before the game. He added that any questions about Rawls would be ignored and that if the questions continued, the press conference could be ended. No one asked about Rawls.
“It was kind of odd that we were told not to bring his name up,” said Morning Sun sports writer Nate Schneider, who covered the game and attended the press conference. “I might have pried further as no one knew why he was held out, but it clearly wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I was told during the game it was just a precautionary thing, so I was thinking maybe some academic hang-up with his transfer from (the University of Michigan).”
It was revealed the next day that Rawls was suspended for attempted larceny, making him the third player on the football team to have legal troubles this season.
“It was shocking to hear the truth because CMU had made it seem like it was nothing like that,” Schneider said. “The lying about why he was withheld wasn’t exactly appreciated.”
Molly Yanity, assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, said CMU’s athletic department “owes the students answers.”
“Even if [students] don’t like what the department has to say about the issue,” Yanity added, “they have a right to know what is going on.”
Yanity covered the University of Washington football team for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 2004-2009 and was a sports writer for 13 years prior to that, including work at ESPN.
“Because students are technically paying for the athletic department, they have a right to know where their money is going,” Yanity said.
According to the USA Today‘s NCAA Database, CMU’s athletic department’s annual revenue totaled $27.7 million, and $18.6 million of that total, or 67.1 percent, comes from student tuition dollars.
Wyman, who is responsible for making sure the athletic department follows its media policies, said he was acting within the guidelines when the reporters were pressured not to ask about Rawls.
“We as a department make sure to follow the media guidelines at all times,” Wyman said.
The media guidelines only mention this in reference to post-game interviews:
“Following all home games, Coach Enos and selected players will meet with the media in the IAC Team Meeting Room. A representative from the Athletic Communications Department will escort media to the room from the northwest corner of the field at the end of the game. The opposing coach and players are available outside the visitors’ locker room. After road games, coach Enos and players will meet with media outside the locker room following a brief cooling off period.”
Enos wasn’t the one who told reporters not to ask about Rawls during the press conference. However, as the head coach and focus of the press conference, he should have been able to answer the questions, given the high-profile and mysterious nature of Rawls’ suspension.
Moving forward, the athletic department’s media policies must be re-examined. Journalists need to be able to ask Enos and other coaches questions about important issues during what limited time they are afforded to talk to them.
Furthermore, as employees of a public institution, coaches should be forthright in answering those questions. If Enos, or whoever else, simply decides to ignore those questions, reporters and the public alike will be left searching for answers, as they too often are.