10/16/20 Ross-Ade Stadium, Painted Field

Ross-Ade Stadium sits empty, awaiting players and fans for Saturday’s opening game against Iowa.

As the threat of the coronavirus continues to loom over the 2020-21 football season, Purdue Athletics has implemented strict new regulations regarding game coverage, barring all local media from sending in-house photographers. This decision creates a disparity between Purdue and most of the Big Ten conference.

A Purdue Athletics representative told the Exponent that a “pool photographer” will cover the game and provide photos to media outlets afterward.

A University representative later clarified the policy was put in place “because media members are not part of the testing protocol” and must therefore have limited contact with players and coaches.

The aim to limit the risk of COVID-19 by de-densifying Ross-Ade Stadium on game day is reasonable. It speaks to a thoughtful effort on the part of the department to protect its players, staff and their families that we cannot deny is well-meaning.

But the inconsistent implementation of the policy is puzzling.

We surveyed the 13 other Big Ten universities to clarify their photography policies. Six of the seven schools who responded confirmed they would allow local media and wire service photographers into their stands on game day. The only schools that have decided against it are Purdue and the University of Minnesota.

Wednesday morning, The Exponent learned that photographers from the Associated Press, Getty Images and USA TODAY Sports will be allowed access to the stadium to provide photos to papers that are part of their wire services. Our wire service, the Tribune News Service, has not been issued credentials, according to The Exponent’s publisher.

Purdue Athletics cites “an abundance of caution” in crowding out The Exponent. Allowing national media representatives into the stadium seems contrary to that sentiment.

The students on staff at The Exponent have followed the Protect Purdue Pledge like every other student on campus. A student newspaper is arguably the safest news outlet to allow in the stadium. Instead of traveling from outside of Indiana, Exponent photographers would walk the block from our office to the stadium.

Moreover, student photographers being barred from the stadium begs the question: Who are college sports for? Without students, there’s no university.

An athletic event featuring student-athletes at a public university would seem most relevant to student journalists. We work, live and attend classes here, and it is our peers playing in the competition.

In a broader sense, banning photography in a public venue brings up issues of public information and the specter of a filtered narrative.

As an independent media organization, it is The Exponent’s responsibility to tell every Purdue story accurately and fairly without incentive to protect or damage Purdue’s image. A Purdue Athletics photographer might not have that same charge and will consider their stakes when choosing which images to capture and share with the public.

For example, would an Athletics photographer be keen on sharing images of mask-less coaches, a particularly brutal injury, depressingly empty stands, or anything else that has the potential to present Purdue Athletics in a negative light? While both universities and the country at large are embroiled in scrutiny over racial injustice, will Athletics choose to share photographs of students and coaches taking action or making statements on the field?

Purdue Athletics should take action to ensure that question remains a hypothetical.

If Purdue doesn’t allow Exponent photographers into the game, it will miss out on valuable coverage. Having to choose from select images rather than capture our own, The Exponent would be left to operate under the constraints of Purdue Athletics, unable to do our most basic job — to tell the story.

The editorial board is made up of the editor-in-chief, managing editor, sports editor, assistant sports editor, campus editor, assistant campus editor, city editor, graphics editor, photos editor, content editor and design editor, and written by Joe Duhownik and Steven Randall.

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