Note: This is the first in a weekly series of commentaries. In lieu of writing the weekly "Rooting Guide" series, I will be focusing on these instead. I hope they stimulate your mind and challenge your assumptions. I look forward to your responses. Enjoy and Go Broncos!
The anticipation of football season in Boise is always tempered with the understanding that any real insight into the team’s performance won’t happen until the first game of the year. That’s because Coach Pete has a tradition of keeping practices closed and restricting the number of public scrimmages. While it’s good coaching strategy to limit the exposure of on-field information to our opponents, it’s bad public relations strategy to limit our community’s exposure to our team. Especially when our community has done so much to support the team and build the program. Boise State football needs to do more to give back to the community. More on that later. First, let’s explore what might be inside Coach Pete’s head when it comes to limited media coverage of practices and scrimmages.
Good for Players
There are many reasons Coach Pete might restrict media coverage of its program. Perhaps the most important on-field reason is game-day strategy. Boise State excels at the unexpected. Our playbook is notoriously complex. Coach Pete and staff do a wonderful job of matching skillsets with the right style of play. Since every season brings with it new players, such refinement must be done every year. Since our program has made a habit of scheduling top programs for the first game of the year, the importance of such preseason secrecy is only intensified.
Beyond improving one’s chances on the field, there are other reasons Coach Pete might wish to restrict media access. Any division 1A student athlete feels tremendous pressure to perform. Not just to impress friends and family on the field, but to maintain his scholarship off it. Reducing scrutiny and outside feedback allows players to breathe a little and improves their ability to manage stress. It also helps them keep football in perspective. Football is just a game, after all. Perhaps no coach knows that better than Coach Pete. His program is infused with opportunities to teach his young men how to be leaders off the field and have success in life after graduation, when the gridiron is just a distant memory.
Minimizing media noise also makes it easier for the coaching staff to develop players. To grow, an athlete must continually be trying new things. With every attempt to improve comes the opportunity to fail. If results are criticized – as the media is often wont to do – players are less apt to push themselves. Conversely, when effort – regardless of results – is rewarded, players feel emboldened to work hard and keep trying. Rewarding effort also builds team unity, something Coach Pete’s programs are known for.
Bad for Fans
Unfortunately, as great as a closed program might be for players and game day strategy, a closed program is no fun at all for the community. Indeed, an entire industry exists to satiate fans’ thirst for news of their favorite team. 24-hour coverage of teams’ on-the-field and off-the-field issues permeates the media landscape. It’s not enough to watch their favorite team play on Saturday. Fans want to know about injuries, and schemes, and how the latest practice went. Were there any great performances? Were there any bad performances? Who is tops on the depth chart now? Were there any off-field issues that had to be dealt with? The depth and breadth of information demanded by fans is nothing short of exhausting.
Adding to the consumption of sports media by casual fans, program supporters have an even greater desire for information and connection. Many fans are shelling out top dollar for season tickets, and membership packages, and parking privileges, and memorabilia.
Such support engenders a responsibility to provide fans with more than just a three-hour show six times a year. Simply put, fans deserve more involvement.
How to provide fans what they deserve
When done correctly, such involvement does not have to come at the expense of exposing information or increasing pressure on players. Such involvement – when done well – can actually minimize pressure, put the game in even more perspective, and allow the players even more opportunities to just have fun.
Boise State has done a remarkable job in its short Division 1A history of creating such community events. Beat Coach Pete, inter-squad softball games, and lunches at the Stuckle Sky Center are just a few of the events the football program has offered fans. Each of these events allows fans to interact with players and coaches in a non-football setting that humanizes one another and brings them closer together.
While Boise State has done a great job with these activities, more must be done. Small events like lunch at the stadium are nice, but big events are what fans enjoy most. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination: intra-squad games like kickball, dodgeball, and basketball, retired player autograph sessions, on-field skills challenges, and my personal favorite: a Giant TV inside the stadium with tailgating in the stadium parking lot during away games. Tickets to these events could be sold for small dollar amounts, concessions offered, and memorabilia sold, thereby bringing in even more revenue for the program. A win-win for all!
Complaints about closed practices will not stop even if community outreach events are expanded. But by offering more ways for fans to engage with the program, not only will these complaints carry less weight, but fans and players will have more fun and the program will earn more money. And who can argue with more money? (Besides the baby?)