The Bradley University men’s basketball team is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years after winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Sunday against Northern Iowa. The automatic bid should have made the Braves a mid-major sweetheart, but some recent actions might have put them in the running for the most-hated team of the tournament that’s not named Duke.
Dave Reynolds, a Journal Star beat writer who’s been covering Bradley for 29 years, was approached by assistant director of athletic communications Jason Veniskey while covering a team media information event on Friday. Veniskey told Reynolds that he was essentially not allowed to be there because of a policy in place that prevented him from receiving “extra coverage opportunity,” according to a commentary article on the Journal Star. Here’s how Reynolds says the conversation went down:
“One of the players I wanted to talk with was Nate Kennell, and I motioned to Jason, ‘I’d like to talk to Nate.’ [Veniskey] said, ‘I want to talk to you for a minute.’
“He pulled me aside and said their policy of me not given extra coverage opportunity was still in place, and I was not allowed to do any interviews. I told him, ‘The newspaper received the invitation.’ He said, ‘That was directed to (Huett), not to you.’ I said, ‘He doesn’t cover the team. I have for 29 years.’
“He responded by saying, ‘You don’t promote the Bradley brand, and basically we don’t want you here.’ I said, ‘Jason, that’s not my job to promote the Bradley brand. You know that.’
The team’s coach, Brian Wardle, apparently said the same thing to Reynolds, and added that this policy was in part because the beat writer was supposedly always looking for a negative slant in his stories about the team. These talking points were even repeated to the publication’s sports editor, Wes Huett, who was told the coverage of the team consisted of “half-truths and misleading stories” that were unfair to the team. Though the most jarring comment was when Huett said the university threatened to curtail the paper’s access altogether.
It’s easy to buy into the bullshit Bradley is spewing when you’re as thin-skinned as these people who represent that university seem to be, and have the memory span of a dying goldfish. Prior to this impressive tournament berth—the Journal Star called it one of the greatest moments in the program’s history in 30 years—the team had been pretty terrible. From 2010-17, all but one season ended with more than 20 losses and the only year that didn’t end that way featured a 18-17 record. Reporters are going to cover the team through its wins and losses, and if the team can’t do anything but put out embarrassing losing years, that’s all the beat writer will talk about. Apparently this was weighing on the program even in 2016 when, after a 5-27 season, Wardle even sat down with Reynolds to tell him that when the team turns things around, he’ll “remember who [his] friends were.” Combine that level of pouting with piss-poor levels of play, and you’re bound to get less-than-favorable coverage of your team.
It’s nothing new for a coach, or even an entire program, to get upset over what they see as overly-negative coverage, but it’s not often that that opinion evolves into a James Dolan style of pettiness that prevents a reporter from doing their job. Even more rare is when a university publicly doubles down on this childish grievance.
The good news for Reynolds is that, for now, he’ll have access to Bradley games—only because the NCAA controls media access for the whole tournament. It’d be nice for Bradley to go on a decent tournament run so Reynolds could do his job unimpeded for the first time in a while, but it also wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the team was blown out in the first round.
Update (4:05 p.m. ET): “Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m trying to remove it”