Though college athletics remain amateur in name, public relations teams, often dubbed "sports information" departments, are omnipresent and increasingly powerful. A disappointing story about limits on press freedom out of the University of Kentucky underscores the school's eagerness to control information.
A writer for the Kentucky Kernel, an independent student newspaper, lost his access to interview members of the UK basketball team because he conducted a pair of interviews without going through the media relations department.
Reporter Aaron Smith called two players, Brian Long and Sam Malone, who were going to walk-on to the prestigious basketball team after he got their cellphone numbers from a schoolwide directory.
The Kentucky athletic department, however, had not yet announced that the players would be walk-ons. As punishment, the department said Smith could no longer interview members of the basketball team one-on-one as he and other reporters were prepared to do.
Kentucky is defending its decision by claiming that those interviews are a reward for special reporters — which seems to mean those who bend to the department's will.
The kicker in all of this is that not only had the news already been leaked by another Kentucky player on Twitter, but the two walk-ons only confirmed they would be playing and then refused to answer any more questions.
A UK spokesperson said that Smith's actions violated the department's trust, especially seeing as student reporters have rarely if ever been included in these one-on-one sessions.
Of course, revoking his access rebuilds that trust.