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Nebraska coach Tom Osborne has rescinded a ban to bar the stude

September 7, 1995

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Nebraska coach Tom Osborne has rescinded a ban to bar the student newspaper from practice, vowing instead to decline interviews with the paper’s reporters.

Osborne declared the ban for Daily Nebraskan reporters after two cartoons critical of football players were published last week. Osborne, who called the cartoons inappropriate, said: ``Attending our practices is a privilege, not a right.″

The first cartoon, published last Thursday, showed a caricature of receiver Riley Washington practicing in a prison jumpsuit and a ball and chain while four other players watched.

Washington is charged with attempted second-degree murder in a shooting Aug. 2 at a Lincoln convenience store. He has practiced with the team since late last month.

The other cartoon depicted running back Lawrence Phillips driving a car with dollar bills blowing out of the back.

The NCAA is reviewing the relationship between Phillips, a junior from West Covina, Calif., and owners of the group home where he lived as a teen-ager. The owners have said they leased a 1995 Mustang convertible for Phillips and provided him with other benefits.

Osborne lifted the ban Wednesday evening and replaced it with stricter rules for all reporters. Nebraska sports information director Chris Anderson said she didn’t know why Osborne changed his mind.

Reporters, including those from the Daily Nebraskan, will be allowed to attend the first 15 minutes of practice, Anderson said late Wednesday. The first 15 minutes have traditionally been open. After practice, reporters will be escorted to a briefing. Reporters can request private interviews with Osborne, but he will exercise his option to refuse such requests from the Daily Nebraskan, Anderson said.

Osborne defended the ban during a call-in radio show Wednesday evening.

When a caller suggested that he overreacted, Osborne said, ``I don’t do anything where I fly off the handle pretty much.″

Journalism professors said that the ban was illegal.

``I don’t think the coach has any legal authority to do what he’s doing,″ professor Alfred Pagel Jr. said Wednesday. ``He’s the coach. Coaches tend to think that everything that affects their team is their business.″

The university’s legal team began looking into the matter Wednesday, but declined to comment. Pagel and Daily Nebraskan editor J. Christopher Hain, meanwhile, said they thought the ban was illegal.

``This sort of issue is one that’s left up to each institution,″ said Steve Mallonee, director of legislative services for the NCAA. ``I’ve never heard of something like this before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.″

Coaches have closed practices for years to avoid being scouted by the opposition. But the ban raised questions of whether Nebraska reporters, who are fees-paying students, can be kept from practice or anywhere else on campus.

``It’s a good question, whether individual reporters or even students can be banned from practice,″ said James Griesen, Nebraska’s vice chancellor for student affairs. School officials said there was no official policy on barring people from team practices.

Professor John Bender, who teaches communications law and freedom of information at Nebraska, said there are several court opinions that protect reporters from being denied access by government entities.

``I think he has overstepped his bounds,″ Bender said. ``As an official of the state, he is required to be evenhanded in terms of granting access to players, practices and other opportunities for finding and reporting news.

``He can’t discriminate against different media on sex, race or religion _ or on the basis of whether he likes a cartoon or not.″

Osborne said the Daily Nebraskan will continue to be welcome at his weekly news conference. ``I have not told the student-athletes that they couldn’t talk to the Daily Nebraskan _ nor will I,″ he said.

James Mehsling, who drew the cartoons, said Osborne was overreacting.

Hain said the Washington cartoon was intended to criticize Nebraska’s decision to allow the junior to practice. The Phillips cartoon, he said, simply raises questions under investigation by the NCAA.

``Whether successful or not, sports figures and their mishaps are part of the public discussion,″ Hain said. ``Nebraskans care deeply about what happens to the team. The football team should expect to be on the editorial page.″

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