If a tree falls at Missouri spring football practice and no one is there to report it, did it make a sound?
Let me be clear about something right off the top here: This isn't a whinefest, a woe-is-me media complaint that Gary Pinkel closed off much of spring ball and won't let us watch. It really, truly isn't.
My point is this simple: The Black and Gold game is three days away. Missouri has one non-pads workout left before the culmination of spring ball. And, yet, I almost feel like it never even started.
Prior to the start of spring drills v13.0 under Pinkel, Missouri made a change. For the first time, there would be limitations on how much the media could see. For his first dozen years, Pinkel probably had the most relaxed media policy in the country. Really, there was no media policy. As long as you weren't writing about formations or trick plays and weren't reporting injuries prior to getting an explanation from someone inside the program, any reporter (and frankly, quite a few fans) could come watch every bit of practice and could interview any coach or player he wanted to after it was over.
This spring, we get to see the first 45 minutes of each practice (which is, to be honest, a glorified warm-up involving only stretching and non-contact position drills). We leave for an hour-and-a-half, come back and select our interviews from a list of pre-approved candidates for that day.
And let me say again, THAT'S FINE. I truly don't have a problem with it. Truth be told, it's made my job--and that of the other few media members who used to cover every second of every workout--quite a bit easier in many ways. It means less time spent at the practice field and fewer stories to write. It means, sans any breaking news, that after practice, instead of writing a three-page practice report, we can write stories later that day or even the next morning.
Another positive result of the new policies, in my opinion, is a bit of management of expectations among the fan base. For the first nine years I covered Missouri football for PowerMizzou.com, I would constantly remind people not to put too much stock in what I and others reported from practice. Our coverage was mostly going to focus on the positive things, the players who stood out and made a good impression. We didn't have access to film sessions or team meetings or anything else that went on after the team walked off the practice field. And if we were smart enough to make legitimate conclusions and predictions based on watching a couple hours of practice every day, Pinkel probably would have hired us to be coaches rather than letting us stand on the sidelines and watch. But despite that, the fanbase's expectations would ratchet up after looking at scrimmage stats or reading that a defensive end had gained 20 pounds and gotten faster or that the third-string quarterback looked really good. Part of that is the nature of fans, but part of it also was taking a small snippet of information and extrapolating to a much larger perceived truth that may or may not have actually been true. With less information out there, I think we will see a reduction in unreachable, sky-high expectations. There will be some, just not as many.
But it isn't just you, the fans, who know less. It is also us, the media.
Missouri has had 13 spring practices. Someone from our site has been at every one. But none of us can draw any conclusions based off what little we have seen.
A battle rages for Missouri's starting quarterback job. It will continue well into fall camp in August. But based only on what I've seen, I can't give you an idea of who is in the lead, or even who should be in the lead. I've seen Maty Mauk and James Franklin throw about 20 passes against an actual defense this spring. If I were to base my conclusions solely on what I'd seen in practices, I might tell you Corbin Berkstresser should start, because I thought he might have had the best performance of the three in the second scrimmage. I mean, every day, we see the quarterbacks throw passes to receivers in individual position drills. How ridiculous would it be of me to form opinions and try to pass them off as professional expertise based on guys throwing slants against air? So what if Franklin hit every receiver in stride? With no defense out there in the 20 minutes I can watch, shouldn't he?
Spring football ends in three days. And for the first time in years, I don't feel like I have any better handle on what to expect out of next season than I did when it started.
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