Josh Kendall

Mute flu is spreading as more coaches place tighter limits on players talking

Media access seems to be a topic that’s popping up all over the place early in the season.

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp does not allow his first-year freshmen to speak to the media. The Gamecocks also don’t make any assistant coaches available to the media during the season. Georgia, which plays South Carolina this weekend, has similar policies.

That’s no surprise considering Muschamp and Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart both come from the Nick Saban coaching tree, but now the mute flu has spread all the way over the West Coast, where Washington head coach Chris Peterson isn’t allowing any of his players to speak to the media this week.

“You guys don’t have enough to talk about and write about?” Peterson told local reporters when questioned about their policy. “They’ve got a lot on their plate going on, we’ve got practice and school, and I figured you guys had enough to write about without having to talk to those guys.”

While Peterson’s position on limiting access to all players is hard to defend, Muschamp and Smart at least have an argument in their case to limit freshmen. Most of these players are taking their first turn on a big stage and are dealing with all the life changes that come with going to college on top of that. The problem specifically with the policy of the Gamecocks and Bulldogs is that at the moment both teams have a true freshman starting at quarterback.

The idea that Brandon McIlwain and Jacob Eason can handle the weight of a Saturday afternoon in front of 100,000 but not 15 minutes of questions from two dozen (at most) media members doesn’t make sense. In the Gamecocks’ case, their leading wide receiver (Bryan Edwards), backup running back (Rico Dowdle) and two key defensive linemen (Keir Thomas and D.J. Wonnum) also are true freshmen, which compounds the access issue.

To Muschamp’s credit, he is candid and patient in his appearances with the media. He fields all the sort of small-detail questions that would normally be addressed to coordinators and gives insightful answers. On his Sunday evening teleconferences, he often lingers to make sure every question has at least had the chance to be asked. The same can’t be said for Smart, who at times this season has been obstinate during his media availability and has no Sunday teleconference.

Washington’s head coach has suggested his policy might continue past this week.

“I think we just play those things week by week. It’s like, what do we need to do as a team? What helps us as a team?” he said. “There’s a lot going on. And you guys are wonderful, but one thing they don’t need this week is you guys.”

That’s the logic gap in this entire argument, though. The players are talking to us, but they’re really talking to you, the fan. Fans who fill these stadiums and fill these schools’ coffers with their financial support benefit from hearing from the players, how they feel and what they think.

If the mute flu continues to spread like this, it will be time for conference officials to step in and assure that the fans (not the media) still have access to the program they support.