Thoughts on Wednesday’s Senior Bowl Practice Closure

Matt Waldman shares his reaction to the news that Wednesday’s Senior Bowl practice will be closed to the media. 

When Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy held his introductory press conference for the event on Monday night, he prepped the media for the likelihood that rain and thunderstorms would force the staff to move the event to an indoor practice facility with limited seating for the public. Tuesday evening, the staff confirmed the move and also many of the attending media’s worst fears — a closed session.

I’m guessing there is a contingent of bloggers, podcasters, and football writers who will criticize the decision. Many flew across the country — dealing with bad weather — to get here only to learn that they will have nothing to report on Wednesday.

I’m sure many of them will be posting these gripes on Twitter while enjoying a meal and a beverage with colleagues — and unexpected “free time.” Like myself, others will enjoy the open schedule to study the first day in greater detail.

You won’t hear me complaining about any angle of the staff’s decision because it’s not their fault.

The safety of the players and public attending the event is the priority. If the only available alternative is a location without seating capacity for registered media and/or public, there’s little time or fairness to determine who is allowed admission.

Either figure out a way to let is all in or keep all us out.

It would be a travesty to overpack this indoor facility and have someone suffer an injury because a reporter is standing somewhere they shouldn’t be. We already have that trouble in NFL stadiums. If the photographers at the end line aren’t a problem, the lack of room between the end line and the wall is the blowback of profit-motivated organizations crossing the line to greed.

If I have a problem with this situation, it has nothing to do with the event lacking a contingency plan for a thunderstorm that includes media attendance. Of course, it would be a good idea.

However, the primary concern is if this move would — or should — have taken place even if the forecast only called for heavy rain.

Statement from Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy:

“Because of potential bad weather on Wednesday, we have decided to move practices to South Alabama’s new indoor facility. Our number one priority is always player safety. Rather than risk injury to a player on a slick field or expose them to potential severe weather, we have opted to go indoors. Unfortunately, because of severe space limitations, that means our credentialed media will not be able to attend the practice. We are sorry for this inconvenience.”

The field conditions at Ladd-Peebles Stadium that pre-exist Nagy’s tenure as the event head.

Although turf has an average lifespan of 8-10 years and it was replaced in Ladd-Peebles in 2013, the turf has some notable rough spots and worn areas at various points on the field.

I am not a turf expert, nor are my colleagues, but we noticed these issues more this year than during the previous two. Over the years, we’ve seen our share of prospects suffer week-ending, if not potential career-ending injuries during the first day of these practices. We also saw a lot of players lose their footing.

To be fair, these players haven’t been practicing or playing for at least a couple of weeks and they are participating in new drills against new opponents. This in itself is enough reason for players to lose their footing.

Even if we cannot make a direct correlation to the condition of the field, the field and facility should not be hosting the top senior football players that are auditioning for a spot among the top 100 selections in the NFL Draft. Candidates for significant investments should be playing at a facility that has the highest standards of field up-keep.

It’s not fair to put this on Phil Savage, either. I know for a fact that the staff that has been running this event for both Savage and Nagy were responsive to safety hazards at Ladd-Peebles because I reported one to them 4-5 years ago.

While in the stands behind the end zone, I went to the area above one of the exit tunnels to get a “coach’s tape” perspective during 11-on-11s. I stood there and took notes for 15 minutes before opting to return to a lower row.

As I turned the corner to take the stairs, I placed my hand on the area of fencing where the horizontal rail meets the vertical rail. I learned that they were not attached at all when my arm went about a foot-and-half past the boundary that fence should have provided — and the rail was still in my hand.

If I had leaned on that fence rail a step or two earlier, I likely fall through and land 15-20 feet below onto the concrete ramp leading to the concession area. As recently as last year, this was an area frequented by scouts and coaches (I remember seeing Bill Belichick hike up there in the past).

I emailed Rob Lehocky about this when practice ended minutes later and they took care of it. Again, the event staff has been excellent.

My concern is that field maintenance and major repairs are significant facility costs that while probably within the director’s purview to recommend the expense, it may not be his call. This may be in the hands of the business and political leaders in the Mobile community.

I enjoy the hospitality of the Mobile community. There are a lot of good people are earning money from the services they provide to the annual influx of the NFL, media, and fans.

There is a smaller group that likely benefits even more from this revenue stream when it can keep the overhead as low as possible. Is this the case with the Senior Bowl? I don’t know.

However, it deserves speculation. If those responsible for the event shared the financials, I’d bet we’d learn this is true.

Making a profit isn’t villainous, but this year’s field conditions and change in schedule might be a sign that we could be reaching a point where being penny-wise will be pound-foolish.

Bookmark the RSP 2019 Senior Bowl Page to find practice reports, videos, and podcasts covering the practice week and the players.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: