Arizona Wildcats quarterback Grant Gunnell made his first collegiate start Saturday against UCLA, and turned in a game worthy of him being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.
But if you, the fans, were wondering how he felt about his performance or what was running through his mind before he took the field, you’re out of luck.
You see, Gunnell is a true freshman, and true freshmen who play under Kevin Sumlin are not available to the media.
Even when Johnny Manziel was enjoying his Heisman season under Sumlin at Texas A&M, he was precluded from interviews. (He was a redshirt freshman at the time, but that was his first season in Sumlin’s program.)
Sumlin explained his no-freshman media policy Monday.
“Well, there’s a lot of things,” he said. “Number one, we get guys from all over the country and different backgrounds. And we do some professional media training for these young guys so that when they present themselves publicly it it presents the right message for themselves and for the university. And how they articulate what’s on their mind and how to view things becomes important because it’s there forever.
“So from a personal standpoint, we want to make sure that those guys are prepared to be able handle the microphone, handle these kind of questions and from the university’s standpoint, also. Give them the best chance because once it’s out there, it’s out there. I’ve been doing this 37 years, I still screw this thing up. A guy who just walks in the door and he doesn’t really know what’s going to happen, I think it’s my job, it’s the university’s job to help prepare young guys for these types of situations and give them the best opportunity to put their best self forward.”
Those are not the only restrictions in place. In case you didn’t know, the way in-season media availability works is Sumlin conducts a press conference Monday, and select players are available on Tuesdays.
Usually, there are anywhere from five to 10 players available, and there is not much, if any, outside input as to who those players are.
Consider that starting quarterback Khalil Tate was only available after games last season. Never during the week. Meanwhile, coordinators and position coaches are totally off limits during the season.
The men’s basketball team has similar policies. Head coach Sean Miller holds a weekly press conference, which is then followed up by one or two players chosen by the program. That’s it. Want to set up a one-on-one with a player? Good luck.
The non-revenue programs, which can always use the exposure, are much more open to the media. You can request to talk to who you want, when you want. Sure, there is no guarantee the coaches or student-athletes will accept your interview request or have time to talk (most of the time they do, in my experience), but it is at least an option presented to them.
Yes, even the freshmen, who oftentimes can be just as polished as seniors.
Take this interview with freshman goalkeeper Hope Hisey, for instance. She cooly and insightfully answered my questions just minutes after a heartbreaking loss:
Freshman goalkeeper @hopehisey31 had a career-high 6 saves in @ArizonaSoccer’s 2-1 double OT loss to Colorado. CU scored on a free kick and PK.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 28, 2019
“To not give up any goals in the run of a play is a testament to how good our defense is.” pic.twitter.com/Ru8IVZ30Os
It is unfortunate that Sumlin thinks his freshmen, even after their best moments, cannot do the same.
And when I say unfortunate, I don’t mean for media members. I mean for the Arizona fans who’d like to get to know the players representing their university.
Otherwise they’re just rooting for laundry.