Gordon Monson: Cameras and coverage on Utah and the Pac-12 are lucrative for them — and even coaches are starting to understand

The conference says it will provide “unprecedented access” in its broadcasts.

(Steve Marcus | AP) Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) walks across the field after Utah's 47-24 victory over Southern California in the Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Lights, camera, action.

College football — in this case particularly the Pac-12 and thereby Utah — seems to be giving a partial nod to the long-obstructed notion that its game isn’t some sort of top-secret militaristic maneuvering, rather it’s what it’s always been — just plain entertainment.

But that realization is limited in its scope — kept to networks that are willing to pay or inside the current complications of the Pac-12 potentially willing to pay stacks of cash to schools in the conference in the present and in the future.

It comes down to drawing eyeballs and making money, same as it ever was. But now it’s different.

The Pac-12 sent out notice on Thursday that it is seeking and embracing innovation by way of opening doors to what a decade ago was kept clandestine. The lead sentence in the news release pretty much made the point:

“In an effort to deliver fans unprecedented access and enhanced entertainment within broadcasts, the Pac-12 Board of Directors has approved a series of football broadcast initiatives that will bring fans closer to head football coaches and student-athletes than ever before.”

It stated further that “the in-game and pregame football access initiatives approved by the Pac-12 Board and to be implemented throughout Pac-12 football broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports and Pac-12 Networks broadcasts include: in-game head coach interviews, pregame and halftime locker room camera access, coaches and select student-athletes wired on-field pregame, cameras in the coaches booth without sound, extended handheld camera permission.”

One more thing: “The Pac-12 will also continue to work with the NCAA to explore additional opportunities to provide access during football games.”


That’s all, the reasons for it, fairly easy to understand. The Pac-12 and other entities inside the college game want to put on a show for the fans, want to draw them in, maintain their interest and enjoy the truckloads of cash that maintained interest brings.

The thought here is that whatever is good for the fans without completely destroying the competitive effort on the field is a move forward. If coaches and/or players are distracted inside games to the point of self-promotion because they, too, can benefit from increased access, that could turn the whole endeavor into a clown show.

But in the past, the opposite has been true.

Football coaches — and they are the main culprits here — traditionally go about their business as though they are fighting a freaking war. It’s that serious. They’ve made it a matter of grave importance to limit exposure to them, to their ideas, to their strategies, to their personalities, to their players, keeping most of it secret, trying to at least.

Coaches love control.

It’s almost comical how some of them have approached sideline interviews on the field at the start of halftime and even after games, unless victory has been safely secured, and even then they’ve often kept their real thoughts to themselves.

Imagine how the old guys, like Bo Schembechler or Woody Hayes or even more recent coaches like Nick Saban might have reacted had cameras and microphones been swirling around them and their players smack dab in the middle of a battle … err, a game. Their heads would have spun around, turning green, with projectile vomiting spewing from their mouths.

Coaches in the Pac-12 approved all this new network stuff, the release said. What it didn’t say is that their hands were likely forced, their arms twisted because cameras are where the money is now. Winning, as always, is huge, too, but that will have to be done alongside the added exposure.

What makes the increased television availability interesting is that a whole lot of college football programs have strongly leaned the other way in recent years, not opening doors but shutting them, greatly reducing availability granted to reporters seeking access to coaches and players.

Ask any beat writer or radio/TV reporter who regularly covers a college team how difficult their jobs have become in the last decade due to new rules put in place to limit exposure. They can tell you that, as opposed to a bygone era when reporters and writers could chitchat with players and coaches, sometimes even during practices, to get information and insight, the lid had and has been slammed tight on such access. It’s not uncommon for reporters to have nothing more than limited sessions during the week before and after a game. Rules are in place to forbid reporters, in some cases, not just from contacting coaches and athletes, but also from reaching out to their family members. If such rules are ignored, press credentials are threatened to be pulled.

There are wink-wink exceptions to those rules, especially for longtime reporters who have coaches’ and players’ cell phone numbers registered in their own phones. Communications directors at schools often do their best to act as liaisons between media members and those with institutional power (usually coaches and athletic directors), and they do make some accommodation where they can. But the point appears to be made by schools that command and control are important.

But they like something else even more: money.

Rank-and-file reporters don’t directly lead to the same money select networks provide, but they do give exposure to programs that leads to ticket sales and greater interest in those programs. Throwing a chip to the schools, though, it’s understandable that with an explosion of desired coverage on the part of so many outlets, beyond just traditional ones (read: internet), herding all of that attention can be problematic. But in some instances that herding is extreme.

Exposure is usually a good thing for institutions and their fans, unless for the former something nefarious or untoward is happening on the inside. But if that’s the case, light should be shed.

Bottom line is, fans are the ones who benefit when they get more, better access to the people they care about. And they care deeply about the coaches and players for whom they root and even for whom they root against.

The money proves that.