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A reminder to coaches closing practices to outsiders

Sark Carroll

These days, media access in college football practices is like a lake in California. If it hasn't evaporated entirely by now, just wait. It will soon.

Many programs don't allow media in at all. Some, like Alabama, allow media in, and then prohibit their media from reporting what they see - which seems to defeat the purpose entirely.

Baylor, in the run up to a season in which it hopes to compete for a national championship, will go more than a week without speaking to its media.

It's not just media, though. At Michigan, students were invited to last Saturday night's practice, but warned that sharing what they saw with the outside world would result in a swift kick to the pants.

Via MLive: "Upon arriving at the stadium, students were told that they're prohibited from using cellular phones while in the stands. They were told before practice that if any student is seen using a phone, he or she will be asked to leave."

And now the trend has reached its zenith, as Steve Sarkisian has banned parents from the Trojans' practices.

“I just felt like it was the best interest for our football team. I want to give our players the best chance to come out here every day, perform really well and not worry about any outside distractions, be able to come over to you guys and express themselves in a positive light, and when it’s done, if they want to go have breakfast or lunch with their parents, that’s great," Sarkisian said Wednesday. "But I just felt like, in the best interest of our team, it was the right thing to do. Time will tell. We’ll see what happens.”

Sarkisian's announcement is especially ironic because...

A) Outside those whose ability to pay their mortgage depends directly on the team's win-loss record, the only group who will take more pride in a team's success than the players themselves are the players' parents, and

B) Of all current college football coaches, Sark should know better.

The current USC coach spent his formative years in this profession working on Pete Carroll's staff. Sark spent seven seasons as an assistant under Carroll, where he helped the Trojans win one AP national championship and a share of six Pac-10 championships while at the same time fostering the most welcoming environment in college football.

"When you compare Carroll to the people in the SEC and the Big Ten, he comes off as the most accessible coach in America, former Riverside Press-Enterprise USC beat writer Dan Weber said in Always Compete, Steve Bisheff's book on the Carroll-era Trojans . "You can not only talk to him every day, you can watch what his team is doing every day. That's almost unheard of at most schools. This is one of the few programs in America that doesn't have a state trooper walking alongside the head coach. Tommy Tuberville of Auburn had one taking him to practice every day. That's not Pete." Added Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke: "I remember going to the Rose Bowl practice here one time, just walking in, then going across the street to the Coliseum, and there were armed guards at the gate, preventing anyone from going to the Michigan practice."

Yeah, that was a different era, especially before the NCAA hammered USC in the Reggie Bush case, before smart phones turned every visitor into a reporter. (Though Carroll insisted in May he'd keep practices open if he were still coaching at USC.)

Regardless, this isn't to say every staff should share Carroll's ideas on openness. It isn't to criticize Sark in particular, or Michigan, or Baylor, or Alabama. Nor is it to argue that all practice sessions should be open all the time. It's to take an pick axe to the idea that observers watching practice and reporting on what they see lead to the omnipresent enemy of every football coach - distractions - and that distractions prevent teams from winning. No one dealt with more variables, more media, more distractions, than the Carroll-era Trojans, with their two Heisman winners and their resulting status as the de facto NFL team in America's second-largest market. And still, from 2002-08, no one won like USC, either.

No, if your football team loses this fall, it'll be because of what happens in practice, not who's watching.