Virtually on the eve of the February 1, 2012, National Signing Day, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd posts “Petrino not seeing No. 1 recruit Thursday“. If you care to look, it’s a half-baked mini-exposé which does everything but accuse Bobby Petrino of a recruiting violation in pursuit of Springfield, Missouri’s, Dorial Green-Beckham, a player many consider to be the best in the country. At first blush Dennis Dodd’s post is difficult to read without stepping in the fading delight of an opportunity for some in the national media to skewer Bobby Petrino one more time. The practice is so four-years-ago-Pat-Forde and an eighteen-million-dollar buy-out contract old.
Regardless of the title (it will be addressed in a moment), consider the obvious about what’s not in Dodd’s post that any rookie beat writer would think to ask and forget for a moment that Dennis Dodd is into his third decade as a journalist.
To understand Dodd’s omissions, one has to understand what Dodd does. Almost nonchalantly Dodd begins skillfully with the sound-bite everyone will remember, “Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino will not be making an in-person visit Thursday to the nation’s No. 1 recruit according to the player’s coach.” Undeniably, the University of Arkansas admits Petrino’s absence from DGB’s in-home visit and, by all accounts, is a decision that Arkansas Athletic Department made on its own. Dodd then seizes on friendly quotes from John Beckham, Dorial’s high school football coach at Hillcrest High School, Dorial’s adoptive father, and a man who appears to be one of the finer people anyone would want to meet. For years John Beckham and his wife have given their home and their lives to providing for children and teenagers less fortunate than they are. Although John Beckham appears to tell Dodd diplomatically that “a situation occurred” when Coach Bobby Petrino and Dorial Green-Beckham “bumped into each other” in San Antonio, Texas, Dodd does absolutely nothing to dissuade the dual impression connoted from the quotes, as if “a situation” and “bumped into” were euphemisms for something more and not purposeful, objectively neutral statements of fact.
Dodd details that the encounter occured while Dorial was in San Antonio for the U.S. Army All-Star Game, and Bobby Petrino was present for the American Football Coaches Association convention in the same city. The All-Star game was a noon on January 7, 2012, which was close to the end of a week’s worth of activities** while the Coaches’ Association convention began on Sunday, January 8, 2012, and continued through January 11, 2012. Set up by the earlier insinuations, Dodd points out the likely applicable NCAA bylaw and further points out that some of the days were either “quiet days” or recruiting “dead days” which severely limit or prohibit coaches’ contacts with recruits. All are true.
But plainly Dodd communicated with John Beckham. Nothing in the report indicates that Dodd bothered to ask Coach Beckham on which day the encounter occurred. Wouldn’t that have been simple for a thirty-year journalist? Did Dodd bother to ask the University of Arkansas exactly when the encounter took place instead of writing about a five-day period? When Dodd communicated with Coach Beckham did he ask what Dorial Green-Beckham’s itinerary was for the weekend? Dodd certainly could have asked the same question of Coach Petrino’s representatives. The difference that the timeline makes is the difference between a technical “in-home” recruiting visit as defined under the NCAA bylaws which occurred when the NCAA permitted recruiting and an almost obvious infraction. The facts are what they are. No one is perfect. If Coach Petrino committed a minor violation, then he committed a minor violation.
Instead, Dodd’s apparent omissions fertilize his insinuations. What Dodd doesn’t say is that Dorial Green-Beckham was playing football in San Antonio on Friday, January 7, 2012,** and Coach Bobby Petrino coached the Arkansas Razorbacks to a Cotton Bowl victory in Dallas on January 6th with his obligations and celebration keeping him in Dallas on Friday. According to the Official NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Calendar , January 7, 2012, was a green day where contact with prospective recruits was permitted, while January 8, 2012, was a “quiet day” and January 9-11 were “dead days.” On January 8, the American Football Coaches’ Association convention began at 9:00 a.m. The answer to one simple question would squarely place the contact in or out of a permitted time. Even if John Beckham couldn’t remember the exact date, and the University of Arkansas wouldn’t respond, Dorial Green-Beckham is still a high school student, and if John Beckham was with him in San Antonio, he likely had to be at work on Monday, January 9, 2012. Are those too difficult for someone with Mr. Dodd’s experience to explore? It’s highly doubtful. It takes under a minute to verify that the Springfield Missouri School District resumed classes after the Christmas and New Years’ breaks on January 3, 2012 and was scheduled for class for the week of Monday, January 9, 2012. Likewise, a short map search would reveal that the distance between San Antonio, Texas, and Springfield, Missouri, is a little under 700 miles. Dorial Green-Beckham either caught a flight out of San Antonio on Sunday, January 8, 2012, or started a fairly long drive. Aren’t those things obvious with very little thought?
What about answering the question of “where” did the encounter took place? Dodd doesn’t bother with that fact either. Were the two at the same hotel? Did their flights happen to be at the same airport gate? Was the encounter at a place where either was obviously on a detour to be there? The questions could go on and on.
Do professional journalists really accidentally fail to ask the who, what, where, when and why questions? Is it even reasonable to believe?
Let’s not ask the questions like Dodd appears to have failed to do.
Rivals, Scout, and other services tell us that Arkansas and other schools, particularly new SEC entrant, the University of Missouri, are on Dorial Green-Beckham’s short list. Gary Pinkel, the University of Missouri’s head coach, wants Dorial Green-Beckham to play for him so badly that he flew onto the Hillcrest High School campus in a helicopter to visit the young man. Pinkel gets a nod strictly for seizing upon the collateral persuasion likely to have come from other high school students. On the other hand does it make a difference that something which impugns the integrity of Arkansas become plastered across the country’s sports media? Would it make Arkansas less attractive as compared to another school, say Missouri?
Shouldn’t the NCAA know whether Dennis Dodd is now or has ever been considered a University of Missouri Booster? NCAA bylaws prohibit boosters from influencing recruits, don’t they? How long has Dodd known about the University of Arkansas’ decision before reporting it the day before Arkansas’ scheduled in-home visit?
The questions are “out of the blue,” aren’t they?
No wonder Dennis Dodd loves bowl season. His life kicked off (Dec. 31, 1956) just hours before the 1957 New Year’s Day bowls. To him, though, The Grandaddy of Them All isn’t necessarily the Rose Bowl. Dennis’ grandfather Daniel Barnard was a legendary amateur soccer star in St. Louis in the 1920s. Later, Grandpa worked for the railroad shuttling fans from St. Louis to South Bend on Notre Dame football Saturdays.
After somehow getting a journalism degree at the University of Missouri, Dennis started his career in Sherman, Texas. From 1981-89 he worked at the Kansas City Star, pausing long enough to propose to his lovely wife during the seventh-inning stretch of Game 5 of the 1987 World Series. Next were stops at the St. Louis Sun, The National (New York), Omaha World-Herald and SportsWriters Direct.
He has worked for CBSSports.com since February 1998 and saw his first game in South Bend later that year. Somewhere, Grandpa was watching.
Dodd as an avid football fan and reporter would never try to help his alma mater, would he? Insinuations work just fine in the place of facts when the writer has an agenda, don’t they Mr. Dodd?
** This is an edit based on a good catch from nwarazfan on Hogville.net. The player combine was on January 6, 2012, and the game itself was on January 7, 2012.