The Portland Trail Blazers announced Tuesday a new, more restrictive policy governing media contact with players following team practices.
Effective immediately, interview requests must now be made in advance and media members will be forced to stand in a designated area after practice breaks, allowing players to move from the practice court to the locker room, trainer's room and weight room without communicating with media members. Once the player has left the court, he is free from obligations unless he has been previously requested for an interview. Coach Terry Stotts and key players such as All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie guard Damian Lillard will still be available following practice on a daily basis as usual but interviews will occur in the designated area only.
Team employees gently but sternly enforced the policy on Tuesday, physically directing media members to their designated area along the far baseline after practice broke.
A team official said that the communications department, and not the basketball operations department, was responsible for the change in policy, which represents a shift from how business was conducted in previous years. The stated logic behind the new policy stems from the department's desire to increase efficiency in facilitating media requests, to decrease a logjam that would often occur in front of the weight room area, and to decrease wait times for media members and team officials in the event a player elected to receive treatment or attend to other business prior to coming back out to meet with the media.
In theory, the new policy, which isn't out of step with similar restrictions seen around the NBA and other sports, including at the NCAA level, does not represent a radical shift. However, it will meaningfully impact coverage of the team.
The biggest change will likely be an increase in the reporter-to-player and camera-to-player ratios. Previously, when practice broke and players streamed towards the weight room, the free-for-all that usually developed often allowed reporters the opportunity to speak to players, even important players, in a 1-on-1 setting. Just like anyone, players usually appeared more comfortable and spoke more openly in that setting than they would in a group environment with multiple cameras trained on their every word.
Now, a much greater percentage of media-player contact will occur in a formalized setting, especially at high interest times when the media crowd swells. Players were available on Tuesday on a mostly staggered basis, meaning the same large group of reporters could interact with just about all of them one after another. Some might view this as an improvement, as the potential for missing an important quote has been virtually eliminated. On the other hand, the more formalized setting also meaningfully reduces the free flow of conversation that occurs in a more natural, non-scrum setting.
Also eliminated here are the spontaneous exchanges and conversations between media members and players and basketball operations officials that often occurred following practice. An invisible wall or protective bubble is the new norm. Access to players working out or rehabilitating in the weight room after practice has also been severed. If the current set-up had been in place over the last two seasons, it's possible the media wouldn't have even known Greg Oden was still on the team.
Certainly, these new rules are not the end of the world. All necessary information regarding injuries, lineups and the like will still be made available. Media access to practices has continually been reduced and/or formalized over the last few decades; this winds up being another small move forward on a long path of baby steps. But rapport between players and media will inevitably suffer and some of the funny, unscripted moments with players and helpful nuggets from scouts that occurred in previous years will wind up being casualties too.