Thursday, February 14, 2008

Campus Corner: An interesting controversy

There's some unusual stuff going on at the University of Ottawa these days, as Ross Prusakowski notes over at blogsketball. According to Prusakowski, Simon Cremer (the sports editor at La Rotonde, the French-language student newspaper over at the University of Ottawa) revealed on the Gee-Gees Hour radio show that Ottawa's Sports Information Coordinator, Dan Carle, apparently let too many details slip for coach David DeAveiro's liking on the injury star point guard Josh Gibson-Bascombe suffered against Toronto. Carle's press release updating Gibson-Bascombe's status contained the following:
"The Gee-Gees are without their leading scorer this weekend. Third-year point guard Josh Gibson-Bascombe (Toronto, Social Science) suffered a partial tear of his right MCL knee ligament and sprained ankle following a awkward fall off a rebound attempt with three minutes left in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 78-69 home loss to Toronto." According to Cremer, this was part of a private conversation between Carle and DeAveiro that wasn't supposed to be published. Cremer also said other coaches have apparently called DeAveiro and insinuated that they'll target Gibson-Bascombe's weakened leg now, which obviously concerns DeAveiro.

Assuming the particulars are correct, as this has gone through several people before me, this is a bit of a tough situation for all parties involved. First, it's obviously painful for Carle. Carle is a good guy: I met him at the Queen's-Ottawa football game at Frank Clair Stadium this fall, and he was very accomodating. He didn't have even a hint of the snobbery towards university journalists many press relations types often have, which I was quite impressed by. This has to be hard on him, as it's an internal department matter: at least in the more normal situation where a coach disagrees with a journalist over what was published (which I'm all too familiar with), the journalist usually has the backing of their media outlet. Also, journalists are under no obligation to only print what's in the team's or coach's best interests. This is a far more convoluted matter, as both Carle and DeAveiro work in the same organization, and theoretically are working towards the same goals.

This also illustrates the tough nature of a sports media relations officer's job. Unlike many journalists who see them as hacks who have sold out, I have a lot of respect for these guys, particularly at the university level: they face the incredibly difficult job of coordinating stats, hammering out quick game reports for their websites and press releases, being up-to-date on the many different sports their institution competes in, making sure the local journalists can get the interviews they need and keeping their bosses happy, all often at the same time. In addition, many of them have journalistic backgrounds, so they probably often run into conflicts between their instincts for a story and their job description of promoting their department. They also have to balance the need to give journalists the stats and the information they need to do their job with the desire to make their department look as good as possible. That's not an easy line to walk, especially when you have to write tremendous amounts of copy every day.

It's also not a great situation for DeAveiro, and I can understand why he's upset. Providing that Cremer's story is correct, it must be tough for him to think that he's given out information that could hurt the team down the road, and the natural reaction is probably to blame the messenger who put the information out. This is not a minor player we're talking about: Gibson-Bascombe is a key cog in the Ottawa machine. He had 20 points and 12 rebounds in Ottawa's Jan. 29 74-70 win over Queen's, and his absence in the return leg likely led to the Gaels' 64-48 win.

Overall, though, I don't think Carle was wrong. I obviously don't know the particulars of the conversation, but if he felt confident enough to publish said material as a sports information officer, it probably wasn't explicitly said that it was to be kept confidential. If it was a journalist this happened to, I could see who was right being more of a grey area, as then you have competing mandates: the journalist's job is to provide information, whereas the coach's job is generally to promote his team in the media. I'd still probably wind up believing the journalist, partly due to my own media bias and partly because coaches and athletes in every sport have been known to try and retract or change things they let slip without thinking. When it's a sports information officer, you can bet he isn't too likely to publish something a coach makes clear he doesn't want out there. Thus, in my view, it's probably a case of attempted retroactive editing: as mentioned above though, I definitely don't have all the details. What's unfortunate is Carle will probably bear the brunt of the fallout: coaches have a hallowed status at most post-secondary institutions, while sports media types tend to be very much at the other end of the spectrum.

I also think DeAveiro doesn't have all that much to worry about. Sure, the exact nature of Gibson-Bascombe's injury is out there, but which leg it was that was hurt and the relative seriousness of the problem could probably be figured out from the game videotape, which is made available to all OUA coaches. All this does is clarify exactly what the problem is, which is great for the media and the fans who want to know what's going on. It's far better than the "upper-body" or "lower-body" stuff that infects the NHL. Unfortunately, stories like this probably mean that the days of actually finding out about injuries at the CIS level are numbered.

A few notes on the Queen's - RMC game last night: full story to come in the Journal tomorrow.
- This game really didn't mean anything, except if RMC would have somehow been able to pull off a miracle to avoid going winless. Unlike the Patriots-Giants, the expected happened, which meant that the game was a pretty dull affair and resulted in a 75-53 Gaels' victory. RMC scored the first four points, but fell behind soon after and never regained the lead, trailing 48-19 by halftime.
- At the game, Mike Grobe (Queen's Sports Information Officer), Jeff Downie (Queen's Campus Recreation Manager) and I were comparing notes on Carleton's 113-27 win over RMC. Downie calculated that given 40 minutes in a game and a 24-second shot clock, a team that had the ball half of the time would score 100 points if they shot at the end of every possession and hit all of their shots (basically, pushing the argument that Carleton was doing all they could to keep the score down to its logical extreme to see if it holds). Thus, any team scoring over 100 points has to be running up the score. Of course, possession isn't evenly split due to rebounds, steals and how quickly the other team shoots on their own possessions, but I still think Downie has the makings of a valid point. Carleton certainly didn't do all they could to keep the score down: after watching Queen's play holding basketball against the Paladins for the entirety of the second half, I know it's certainly possible to avoid running up the score. The degree to which Carleton ran up the score is questionable, but from this, it certainly at least appears that they might have.
- A good question is why the Paladins still bother to field teams in basketball and volleyball, especially given the small nature of their school. They went 0-22 in both basketball programs this year, 0-20 in men's volleyball and 0-19 in women's volleyball (where they didn't even win a set). This isn't an unusual circumstance: these RMC programs have struggled for a while. In fact, their women's soccer team's upset of Queen's this year was the first time one of their women's teams had made the postseason in any sport. As their athletic director Darren Cates told me earlier this year, their tiny student population makes it difficult for them to recruit. In my view, though, they should shift their focus to sports where they have some success. They've already cut their programs from 30 to 11, but it might make sense to scrap basketball and volleyball and bring back some of the other ones that could have a better chance. At the moment, these programs are just bad publicity for their school, which is the opposite of the usual goal of university athletics.
- Also interesting is that Queen's is already preparing for undefeated Carleton, according to head coach Rob Smart, despite facing either Ryerson or York in the first round. This is certainly unconventional, and opposed to the usual cliche of "one game at a time". Smart told me this is because Carleton's good enough that preparing to beat them will be enough to take care of the first-round opponents. Smart also said that they need to beat the Ravens in order to accomplish anything meaningful. He certainly aims high, perhaps driven by the sibling rivalry? In contrast, men's volleyball head coach Brenda Willis refuses to look beyond Saturday night's clash with sixth-seeded Ryerson to the looming prospect of an OUA Final rematch with McMaster. Time will tell which approach works better, or if they're both valid.

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