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OUR VIEW: Restrictions are low-class move by NDSU

It's official: North Dakota State University sees itself as a big-time sports university, and it's biting the generous hand that fed it during its rise to national prominence.

Our Opinion
Our Opinion

It’s official: North Dakota State University sees itself as a big-time sports university, and it’s biting the generous hand that fed it during its rise to national prominence.

Last week, NDSU announced it is taking steps to protect the Bison brand. That means much stricter guidelines on how members of the media cover Bison athletics – most notably football and basketball.

According to the new guidelines, media outlets without NDSU broadcast agreements won’t be allowed to:

· show extended highlights on special TV programs;

· broadcast or stream live regularly scheduled press conferences;

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· host pregame or postgame coverage from NDSU facilities or grounds, including parking lots;

· do live play-by-play blogging of games;

· conduct one-on-one interviews with the head football or basketball coaches on radio or TV in season without written consent of NDSU, 24 hours in advance.

Notice that the restriction on head coaches is limited to football and basketball, and that’s a telling symptom of what’s really happening. Football and basketball are the money sports at NDSU, and the school is using this pay-to-play approach to take advantage of the prominent rise of those programs.

Yet NDSU – like all colleges – probably is still desperate for coverage of its so-called minor sports. So naturally, if media outlets want to speak to, say, the women’s golf coach, that’s OK and probably will be encouraged. After all, that kind of free publicity has been provided to those programs for years.

This is a bothersome development, and not just because a university has effectively blocked media access. It’s bothersome because NDSU has forgotten that nearly every time a media outlet does a story, it is promoting that university’s brand.

The young athlete in Casselton, Carrington or Cando learns about NDSU by reading the newspaper and by seeing features and segments on NDSU athletes on the 10 o’clock news. Part of what NDSU offers that kid is the chance to be locally famous, thanks to the same media that now is being limited in its coverage.

Bison football is huge. Conversely, Bison soccer is not.

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Yet a quick look at archives of The Forum newspaper – which is owned by the same company that owns the Herald – shows The Forum consistently provides scores, short summaries and stories about the NDSU women’s soccer team, which this year has just three players on its roster from towns within a two- or three-hour drive of campus.

NDSU women’s soccer isn’t a moneymaking enterprise for a newspaper like The Forum, and readers are not picketing outside the building demanding college soccer coverage.

Newsprint, ink and reporters all come with a price tag, and coverage of golf, soccer and other minor sports comes via a combination of factors, chiefly a newspaper’s hope to provide comprehensive and thorough coverage as well as a commitment to civic journalism and relative fairness.

Blinded by potential revenue and its new big-time “brand,” NDSU fails to see this.

Inevitably, the phone will ring at The Forum, the Herald or any number of other media outlets in North Dakota. On the line will be some university marketing employee with excitement in her voice as she tells an editor about some new program, some visiting artist or some project that few people care about. As has been the case with Forum Communications-owned entities, it’s very possible a story will be written or a TV crew will be dispatched, thus providing great publicity to the university’s brand.

Perhaps that story will catch the eye of a high school student, who previously was undecided about her college choice. After all, that’s why the university sent the tip to the newspaper in the first place – for publicity.

But when a media outlet wants to talk to the football coach or set up a camera in a parking lot before a Bison game, the media outlet needs to come with its checkbook in hand.

Never mind that these coaches are among the highest paid public employees in the state, working for a system that is funded by – you guessed it – public dollars.

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And never mind that in the end, the fans are hurt by these new rules.

This is a low-class move by NDSU, and our hope is that someone – the university system or the Legislature, for instance – will intervene.

-- Korrie Wenzel for the Herald

Opinion by Korrie Wenzel
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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