When Shane Ryan had trouble getting credentialed for the March 3 Duke-U.N.C. Chapel Hill basketball game, he asked Sarah Larimer, his editor at Grantland, to email on his behalf. “Sometimes it can be helpful for someone with an ESPN address” to make such a request says Ryan, who regularly freelances for the publication but is still making do with Gmail.
Larimer emailed Matt Plizga, an associate sports information director at Duke on Feb. 22. “Hi, Matt,” she wrote, “I need to request creds for the upcoming Duke-UNC game for Shane Ryan. Shane is a writer for Grantland, an ESPN sports and culture site. Can you help me with this one?”
“I have already received a credential request from Shane Ryan and informed him that due to space limitations we will be unable to accommodate his request,” Plizga replied the same day. “Thank you for the interest but I am unable to credential cultural sites and bloggers for this game.”
After being informed of the denial, Grantland chief Bill Simmons took to Twitter. “Duke wouldn’t credential Grantland for Saturday’s UNC-Duke game. I already hated Duke but was diplomatic about it… no more. IT IS ON!” he wrote.
This prompted Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch to do a little reporting: ESPN already has 10 seats for the game, Duke told him, plus space for a photographer and “multiple camera spots required to air the game.”
“Duke says they must make some some tough decisions for the UNC game,” Deitsch writes. “One of those decisions, according to Duke, is the inability to credential blog sites and websites that do not attempt to cover the team on a regular basis.” Grantland generally files its own credential requests, Larimer says.
Reached by email, Plizga says Duke had 57 spots on “media row” to dole out, 27 photo and video spots and 12 seats in an overflow booth. “I have been able to put another 4-10 media members in ticketed seats,” Plizga writes. “I also have 20-25 media that will be provided postgame access but will have to watch the game from the media room in Cameron Indoor Stadium.” Plizga says this was the first occasion on which Grantland has applied for credentials. “In addition,” he writes, “the request was for a credential for one of their bloggers rather than one of their feature writers such as Bill Simmons.”
He says he’s received 150 credential requests from media and scouts this year and denied “25-30″ of them.
This is an interesting moment for Grantland-watchers. The site, launched last June, is not easily categorizable; you’re as likely to read an essay about why Americans hate horses or a 1,766-word “Downton Abbey” recap as you are a Twins season preview. Grantland does, in fact, write about Duke. Many of those items, like this one about North Carolina basketball fandom, are written by Ryan, a Duke grad (2005) and Blue Devils fan who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he attended grad school at U.N.C. He was at the most recent Duke-Carolina game in the Dean E. Smith Center, where he says Carolina’s media rep sat him and other reporters in the crowd “because there was so much overflow.”
Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke plays at home, “is a much smaller venue” than the Dean Dome, Ryan says. “I believe everything they say about space limitations.” And Simmons’ bluster aside, Ryan says Grantland will still cover the March 3 game. “We’re gonna figure out a new angle to do it from,” he says. “I’ve had a couple of opportunities to get into the game, which I probably won’t take advantage of. Not for free, obviously, but for face value, which is rare enough.”
Disclosures: I worked with Larimer at TBD.com and have shared places of employment with several other Grantland writers over the years. Poynter serves separately as ESPN’s ombud for the Poynter Review Project.