A great disservice

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September 22, 2010

3:25 PM

It is now just five days into the brand-new rivalry between William and Mary and Old Dominion football and things are already getting ugly. No, not on the field — in the conduct of the local print media.

In the aftermath of Saturday night’s heated 21-17 Tribe victory, Head Coach Jimmye Laycock made a brief comment regarding the numerous personal fouls recorded by ODU during the game. “If [ODU] understand[s] what is good football as far as personal fouls, if they learn about that, then yeah, I’m okay with it,” Laycock said. “But if they don’t learn about hitting late and hitting after the whistle, then no, I’m not.”

It was a fairly restrained comment, and one that Laycock, who almost never criticizes an opponent, was completely justified in making. Two days later, Monarchs Head Coach Bobby Wilder responded, telling the Virginian-Pilot, “I’ve always felt as a head coach you need to coach your own team and you should comment on your own team. So in my opinion, and the way I handle my business and our program handles our business is, we speak to one football team, and that’s Old Dominion. We’re a program that’s just 14 games old. We’re learning.”

Both coaches were entirely legitimate in their responses. Laycock spoke out on what he considered an important issue, and Wilder did the only thing he could in steadfastly defending his team. Both coaches have long since moved on to preparing for their respective upcoming opponents.

But enter the Peninsula media, who gleefully stepped into the fray.

Several days ago, I briefly criticized that same media for overhyping the ODU-Tribe rivalry, one that does not yet exist to a significant degree. Since then, it’s only gotten worse.

The Daily Press’ David Teel chimed in Tuesday with a fairly benign piece on the frosty relationship between the two schools. While a bit exclamatory, it was mostly accurate and even-handed.

But then the Virginian-Pilot chose to continue the “issue” with some truly irresponsible and inflammatory reporting. Columnist Bob Molinaro first criticized Laycock for “lecturing” Old Dominion, reasoning that his “dismissive criticism” is anchored in “something that goes beyond the football field.” According to Molinaro, “Laycock’s admonishment of ODU and its coaching staff is characteristic of the way many W&M people look down their noses at their Hampton Roads neighbors.” The evidence for this assertion? I quote directly, “internet rants against ODU that include traditional insults about Monarch athletes being academically unqualified for W&M.”.

It gets worse. In an absolutely pathetic and irresponsible piece of reporting, Rich Radford, the ODU football beat reporter for the Virginian-Pilot went even farther. After making a mountain out of Laycock’s brief comment in the preceding days, Radford published a story Wednesday attacking Tribe senior soccer player Nick Orozco, who was red-carded Tuesday night in a game between the Tribe and Monarchs in a tussle with an Old Dominion player (who was also carded, a fact Radford conveniently overlooks). “This must have been some kind of mistake,” Radford mockingly writes. “Those from the College of William and Mary never act that way.”

Exactly how an incident on the soccer field is in any way related to the already hyperbolic and inflated “controversy” over Laycock’s sole comment is beyond me. For a professional (and I use that term loosely here) journalist to attack a college student over a play he didn’t even witness is simply reprehensible, not to mention just plain lazy.

But it speaks to a bigger issue. In an attempt to sell newspapers to ODU’s large and rabid fan base, the Pilot has completely abandoned any pretense of journalistic fairness or reality, engaging in the sort of yellow journalism that is frowned upon even among collegiate news sources. The newspaper, at least in its beat coverage, is so in the tank for the Monarchs, that it’s almost comical. A passage at the end of Radford’s piece is particularly revealing:

“The [comment] that made me double over, however, was tagged on the end of a Bob Molinaro column this morning: “It’s ok, Tribe … keep the insults comin’. In five years or so, we’ll be beating you so bad in football that you’ll have to change your name to the Williamsburg Division of Old Dominion University.” Molinaro wishes he’d thought of that one first.”

To see area journalism reduced to this sort of trash is saddening. After building an artificial controversy, the media is now perpetuating it, long after both teams have moved on. The Old Dominion-William and Mary rivalry is set to be a great one for many years to come, as both schools seem set to contend long-term in the CAA. To distort and ravage it in this way does both schools — their players, coaches and fans, alike — a great disservice.

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