Think About Jalen

jalenLast night, I got into a Twitter back-and-forth with Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News after I tweeted my disapproval of reporting related to Alabama QB Jalen Hurts’ registering with the NCAA Transfer Portal.

I won’t go into debate details. Hurt was defending his and others’ reporting; I was showing my usual insufferable self-righteousness. By the end of the discussion, some were praising our restraint in debate, though both of us might confess to being more ticked off with the other than we were showing, at least early on.

In retrospect, I wish I had not focused on myself and my actions as much. I wish that I had talked more about Jalen Hurts–because that’s the point. In this case, Jalen Hurts as a 20-year-old college student seems to be forgotten.

Ironically, Hurts’ problems started when his name entered the NCAA Transfer Portal. The NCAA set up the portal to give student-athletes more control over the transfer process and to prevent schools from blocking student-athlete transfers, according to this NCAA handout.

The student-athlete contacts the athletics department compliance office, and a staff member there enters the name into the portal. The portal is not a public database; it is an NCAA resource.

College coaches and administrative staff are encouraged by the NCAA to keep portal information confidential. It’s not just a matter of academic privacy. Given the recent legalization of sports betting, such information can be valuable, financially speaking, so it’s another area of possible abuse.

After Hurts’ name was entered, at least one person–either an administrator or a coach–ignored the NCAA’s cautions and leaked Hurts’ name to the media. Former Georgia QB Justin Fields faced similar treatment when he registered to the portal in mid-December.

Back to Hurts. Unlike other CFB players, he did not announce his intention to transfer; I would infer that his preference was to not publicly discuss it. The individuals who leaked it were not identified by name, though some sports journalists (such as Cecil Hurt himself) did report that the individual was a source with administrative access to the database, which is helpful background.

That way, we knew that it was not Hurts himself or a family member/friend who leaked the info. That reinforced the inference that Hurts desired privacy for his decision.

John Infante, who tweets frequently on NCAA-related issues, wondered on Twitter whether an attorney would “start a cottage practice of aggressively going after these leakers for FERPA violations, just to stop these stories.” He was commenting specifically on a tweet about Hurts.

Given the media attention given to the transfer portal (along with numerous sci-fi memes), I had thought the portal was public knowledge. Thanks to Infante, I realize that the portal is in fact an internal NCAA database created to help the athletes.

I don’t know if leaking transfer portal information would rise to the level of a FERPA offense. In practice, however, the result is the same. An academic process for a student-athlete becomes public information, because someone leaks it.

And once again, yet another aspect of student-athlete involvement is misused by NCAA coaches and administrators, hurting student-athletes in the process.

True, a transfer is an athletic issue, but it is also an academic process, despite condescending skepticism toward student-athletes–particularly college football players–where academics are concerned.

No doubt Jalen Hurts was disappointed in how his athletic career was working out at Alabama. He had dreams and hopes yet to attain. He didn’t publicly complain; instead he started looking elsewhere using an NCAA database intended to be private.

Because he is a former starting quarterback at a CFB dynasty, instead of a typical student looking to move, open season is declared on his privacy. Fans want to know, and sports media professionals would love to tell them.

And when an athletics coach or staff member, with whatever motivation, leaks the information, it becomes another problem for Hurts to deal with as he makes an important decision.

As a journalism faculty member, I get it. As a journalism faculty member, I look out for students, athlete or non-athlete.

I spent three years as a faculty representative on Auburn’s athletics committee, roughly from Cam to Kick Six. I saw aggregate drug test results and annual APR numbers and heard about upcoming news. I never told any sports journalist friend about what I learned.

In a similar vein, when I see a student-athlete treated as a means to an end, the end being reader interest, rather than an end in himself, I should say something regardless of the school involved.

As with any leak, in Washington or on the NCAA Transfer Portal, it’s not the media’s responsibility to stop the leaks. In this case, it’s the NCAA’s responsibility. But as I stated earlier, the NCAA seems more interested in restricting student-athletes and less interested in curbing anything related to coaches and staff members.

Am I saying media outlets should decline to pursue such news out of respect for Hurts’ privacy? On one level, it sounds great to think that an outlet would let others do the dirty work and announce Hurts’ transfer only when he did.

But that’s anathema to any journalist. And what about the readers? They pay lip service to lofty principles, but would they support a media outlet that publicly stated its unwillingness to print such information?

Expect the process to continue. Some leak. Others then report. Many others then read or view. And somewhere in that process is a 20-year-old young man, whose athletic talent has cost him his privacy as he navigates life’s tough decisions, academic and personal.

At least think about him.



Give Auburn Students a Break!

Expect a pretty empty student section at the Auburn-Tennessee game. And, sadly, expect the media to blame student apathy.

Give the students a break. Blame lies with the Southeastern Conference.

This weekend is fall break; Auburn does not have class on Thursday or Friday. It’s a fairly recent schedule addition–previously, students, and faculty, endured a long journey from the early-semester Labor Day holiday to the late-semester Thanksgiving break. It was a grind for everyone.

In 2015, Auburn instituted a two-day fall break, to much rejoicing. The football schedule included either off weeks or away games (and an off week next year as well).

This year, however, the SEC scheduled Auburn-Tennessee for that weekend. More recently, Auburn basketball added the Tip-Off at Toomer’s, which filled the Thursday of the break and gave students an attractive distraction.  That has been canceled by Hurricane Michael-related concerns.

So now, students who have just completed midterms (all the time knowing that a rapidly developing hurricane will pass through the neighboring states and affect southeastern Alabama) will likely prefer to go home for the four-day.

As we look ahead, we can expect broadcasters and sportswriters alike to decry the emptier-than-normal student section and draw conclusions that blame student apathy and disappointment with the team’s performance.

You won’t even have to wait until Saturday. SEC Nation is planning to broadcast from the site, in part drawn by the now-canceled Tip-Off at Toomer’s.

I wonder how many within the media will lay blame not with the students, but with the SEC for forcing students into a choice with a false level of significance. Given the first three letters in their names, I would not expect much criticism from either Network or Nation.

We are in a time when context is an annoyance and Millennials a favorite target for whatever they’re blamed with killing, so I expect the hot-take artists to be in attack mode. The students deserve better.

They deserve a two-day break following midterms, and the SEC should have respected that in setting the schedule. Moving the break back a week to accommodate the Tennessee game ignores its timing, immediately after exams.

Beyond that, the students deserve to be more than a convenient means to a click-baiting media end. They have reasons for missing the game that relate more to decisions out of their control, and media members who gloss over their own slacker days should remember that before laying on the “when I was in college” revisionism.

One small mercy is that blame will in part focus on the team’s bad loss to Mississippi State, so that the students themselves will not be the only target. Still it won’t eliminate it.

Perhaps more students than expected will turn out on Saturday. If so, I hope that is acknowledged.

But on Saturday, even if the media members don’t, give the students a break. And SEC, please do the same for all conference university students.