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Full-Court Press

Player on court   

Scheduled to air during the dramatic concluding week of the NCAA's March Madness, this segment of MEDIA MATTERS explores how journalists cover the dynamic and high-pressure world of men's college basketball. Reporter Bill Rhoden, sports columnist for The New York TIMES, focuses on Eric Prisbell, the twenty-four-year-old basketball reporter for the Fresno BEE. Prisbell's beat is famed basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and his Fresno State Bulldogs. After thirty-eight years of coaching, Jerry Tarkanian retired from basketball -- for the second time -- last week. Yet, for most of his thirty-one years coaching Division I basketball, Jerry Tarkanian and his players have been in the media spotlight for a seemingly endless litany of scandals. As a result, most of the press on Tark has been negative, even though he's the third most successful coach in NCAA history and remains beloved by his players.

Tarkanian and a press conference
A drug scandal at Fresno State raises questions of responsibility.

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In recent years, sports reporters have eschewed the old, romantic notion of the beat-reporter-as-team-member to take on a more traditionally journalistic role. Investigative reporting by local and national media created a stream of scandalous sports headlines throughout the 1990s, many of which involved violations of the NCAA's extensive and specific rulebook by collegiate programs. Such exposés have often elicited virulent reactions from fans, which are often directed at the journalists and their publications rather than the university officials or athletes who have infringed the rules. In documenting how Eric Prisbell navigates the pressures of his job, we will ask whether there is a middle path between rah-rah home-team press-box journalism and the sometimes vicious investigative work that sells papers but can ruin the careers of the frequently disadvantaged players.

College sports has become a huge money making and publicity machine for universities, television networks, and millionaire coaches. How often does a reporter like Prisbell focus on these larger questions? How deeply does he delve into the contradictions and hypocrisies of NCAA policies, the racially charged environment, or the real winners and losers?

Crying Foul

Learn about three college basketball scandals that caused a big stir in the media and among sports fans.
Fresno State Basketball Closed Practice
How do you think journalists should cover college sports?

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Conviceted athlete, Tark face questions
Jerry Tarkanian -- a seemingly endless litany of scandals.