The silent treatment: UB Athletics’ lack of response during breaking coaching news is unacceptable

I’ve grown used to it.

A major sports story breaks on campus and UB Athletics does not even pick up the phone.

The most recent incident: men’s basketball head coach Bobby Hurley leaving Buffalo for the Arizona State job opening Thursday night.

When news broke that Hurleywas headed to Tempe, we immediately began to write down our list of potential sources to call – everyone from former players to current players’ parents and even Hurley himself. But the first number on our list was UB Athletics itself.

UB Athletic Communications is our lifeline for covering the Bulls. We’re mandated to go through that department to cover games, speak with players and administrators and gain access – everything we need.

And Thursday night the media needed a confirmation that Hurley was leaving. We wanted a comment from Athletic Director Danny White. We wanted access to players. It’s our responsibility as a news organization to request this.

We didn’t even get an answered phone call. We got a press release.

Now UB Athletics is holding an introductory press conference for new head coach Nate Oats Monday. White will most likely be made available to the media for questions (if he’s not, you’ll see another column Wednesday) after his speech and maybe if we’re luckly they’ll give us a player or two.

But that doesn’t change the fact Hurley has been the head coach of Arizona State for four days now and we’ve yet hear from White or anyone surrounding the team. The Spectrum’s attempts to contact White have been unsuccessful, and Athletic Communications told us players wouldn’t be available until after the new coach is announced.

After being stonewalled by athletics the night former football head coach Jeff Quinn was fired last October, I wasn’t surprised Thursday night unraveled how it did.

The only time I can recall Athletics answering our phone call during breaking coaching news was when volleyball head coach Reed Sunahara resigned to coach at West Virginia last month – but that was only because they didn’t know about it yet.

When The Spectrum contacted Arizona State’s media relations regarding Hurley Thursday, our call was answered and we were given a straight answer: Yes, Bobby is the new head coach of the Sun Devils.

Seems pretty big-time to me.

When your job is athletic communication, I don’t think you should turn off your cellphone at the most important times the media and public need to communicate with athletics.

Of course, this is not the Athletic Communications staff decision for silence during breaking coaching news. That call is likely from the top – from White.

White has made himself available to The Spectrum at times during this academic year. He spoke with me during the Bulls’ NCAA Tournament selection show party and gave what seemed like a genuine, thoughtful response to a tough question about firing coaches.

But his accessibility is generally when we’re writing positive stories about game attendance, promotions and victories. Why can’t he set aside 15 minutes on the phone when he sacks Quinn or Hurley leaves town?

That’s when we really need access to him.

After unsuccessfully reaching White through his own office Friday afternoon, I was told I’d need to go through Athletic Communications to set up an interview. But one of the staff members I was told to go through is out of the office for the week and the other did not answer the phone.

White also canceled a sit-down with The Spectrum to speak about the UB Athletics budget for an on-going series of stories. Then Athletic Communications told us White didn’t want to talk about the budget and to speak with Deputy Director of Athletics Allen Greene, who did honor his scheduled interview The Spectrum.

Not good enough.

The athletic director should be held accountable to answer questions about his department’s budget, when he fires coaches or when the most successful basketball coach in school history leaves for a bigger program.

The university and student body deserves answers on what was done to keep Hurley and the events that led to his departure. We – and all media – should be able to ask if the narrative The Buffalo News has been reporting from unnamed sources about Hurley feeling insulted by Athletics’ salary offer is true.

All we’ve heard out of White after coaches leave the program is a released statement. He’s isn’t heard from again until the introductory press conference for the new head coach, at which point the focus is on the new head coach rather than the departure of the previous.

The media has to hold White accountable about Hurley’s departure at Monday’s press conference. He should be answering just as many questions about Hurley he is about Oats.

White can somewhat rectify the situation by providing honest and open answers Monday – it’s just four days too late.

Even though the players on the Bulls are our peers we are unable to have an official conversation without the presence or approval of Athletics

It is a widespread NCAA policy. The university wants to protect its brand. But if you’re going to bar us from speaking with our classmates, at least make a few, coached-up players available for comment when their head coach leaves. It’s better than nothing.

We were given Megan Lipski of the volleyball team when Sunahara left town. Why the double standard when it’s a sport that’s more popularly attended?

The Spectrum covers Athletics like any newspaper covers beats. We consistently cover the department with sometimes unparalleled in depth coverage (OK - I’m a little biased) and provide the student body access they wouldn’t normally have. Yes, it’s often critical, but the good has to be taken with the bad.

While we have had some issues in the past with UB Athletics and we sometimes have trouble getting interviews, Athletic Communication is generally accommodating and flexible during the noncontroversial times. They made sure The Spectrum had courtside seating preferences for the Bulls’ NCAA Tournament game in Columbus, Ohio.

I appreciate that. So, I don’t mean to come off as entitled. You might be thinking, Why does Athletics owe you, some 21-year-old college student, any kind of a response?

Because I – and the other reporters at this paper – represent the student body. We are their newspaper and they are the students who have filled your stadium seats this past season, Mr. White.

Tom Dinki is the senior news editor and can be reached at