Following a scathing story published by the University of Montana student newspaper about an alleged assault by two Grizzly football players, the UM football team has proved it's good at another game - the silent treatment.
In recent weeks, head coach Bobby Hauck has publicly belittled Kaimin reporters at weekly news conferences, and followed through with an earlier threat of shutting the students out of interviews. Now, the football athletes are no longer speaking to the student reporters either - a silence the Kaimin believes Hauck ordered.
UM officials strongly deny that claim, saying the athletes decided among themselves not to talk.
What brought this spat into public view, however, was last Saturday when fans and alumni crowding into Washington-Grizzly Stadium stopped to grab a GameDay - a free Kaimin-produced publication highlighting a member of the Griz football team - only to find the cover story featuring a coach for Cal Poly, the opposing team.
For many fans, that was a slap in the face, especially on Homecoming weekend.
"This arrangement is not what the Kaimin would prefer, and it's probably not what the students and community members who seek out GameDay prefer either," wrote Kaimin editor Allison Maier in an explanation published in the same issue. "But it will remain this way unless head coach Bobby Hauck and his football players decide to talk to the Kaimin reporters again."
The question that has the community and local sports blogosphere abuzz is whether this is appropriate behavior for one of UM's highest-paid public officials - a person who not only represents UM, but is a role model for his players and those in the community. Opinions fall on both sides of the issue.
At a recent weekly news conference, a Kaimin reporter asked Hauck whether he was going to continue rotating quarterbacks.
"You want something from me now?" replied Hauck. "You've got to be kidding me."
A Missoulian sportswriter immediately followed up with the same question, to which Hauck provided an answer.
At the following week's news conference, the Kaimin reporter again asked a question - this one on how the Grizzly defense would defend against the speed of an opposing running back.
Hauck's reply: "I'll give you this, you're persistent. Who's next?"
After a recent practice, a student reporter asked a question of a player, who replied that he "wasn't allowed to talk to the Kaimin," the school newspaper reported.
Never in 25 years as the Kaimin's faculty adviser has journalism professor Carol Van Valkenburg seen a coach shut out the student newspaper for this long, and then muzzle those around them, she said.
Athletic director Jim O'Day said he asked the athletes why they've chosen to stonewall the student newspaper.
"This is not the first time that has ever happened," he said. "They've rallied around their coach before. It's distrust of what is going to be reported. And that's their perception. Is that the reality? No. Is it possible? Sure."
Chris Jones is a feature writer for Esquire and ESPN Magazine and a UM visiting journalism professor who has been advising the Kaimin this semester. Jones began his career covering professional sports for the National Post in Toronto, and says that Hauck's attitude toward the press would not be tolerated in a larger market.
Sure, reporters and sources get in disputes, Jones said. What's different is when a person of authority begins telling others not to talk, too.
"There is definitely a code of silence over the team," he said. "Bobby Hauck is mad because of good reporting and the Kaimin should not apologize for good reporting."
The school newspaper published a news story a month ago about an alleged assault outside a fraternity earlier this year by two Griz football players on a UM student, who required medical attention. While the incident went unreported to local authorities, some UM officials were made aware of the situation, including Hauck, who punished the athletes internally and contacted the victim's father.
When asking Hauck questions about the alleged incident, the student journalist was met with harsh words from the coach, who swore and attempted to cover up the tape recorder. Hauck later apologized for cursing at the student, but that hardly proved the end of things.
"Hauck can do what he wants, but the players won't talk to us and that's my main concern," said Maier, who has been berated this week for the recent GameDay cover. She hopes Saturday's GameDay featuring the Grizzly Marching Band will cause fewer tempers to flare.
Hauck refused to be interviewed for this story when contacted by the Missoulian.
It's the student's choice whether to talk to the media, said UM executive vice president Jim Foley. The athletes' decision not to talk to the student newspaper is their own, he said. The university cannot force them.
When asked repeatedly whether Hauck's conduct toward the students in recent weeks has been appropriate, Foley replied the same each time: "As public officials, we have to treat people with civility and be respectful."
As far as moving forward, neither UM administrators nor the students know exactly how best to proceed.
Foley says all sides need to come together to find an understanding and common ground.
"I think the only thing that will heal it is time," O'Day said. "That's what happens in a case like this. New people. New situations. A time to reflect on everything. And that might take a little while."
The Kaimin is not going to apologize for its reporting, Jones said. No one has disputed the facts in the story. The students, however, say in an attempt to move on, they will continue attending news conferences and asking football-related questions of both Hauck and the athletes.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at email@example.com.