A reporter from the Southern California News Group was suspended from covering the USC football team for two weeks for allegedly violating the school’s media guidelines, the news organization announced on Tuesday.
Orange County Register and SCNG reporter Luca Evans had his access to the team suspended after head coach Lincoln Riley apparently took issue with a story Evans published last week about freshman running back Quinten Joyner.
In the lede of that story, Evans detailed a harmless conversation Joyner and fellow freshman Braylan Shelby had with each other before speaking with reporters. The conversation, which occurred in front of reporters, was about how they were nervous to speak with journalists — something they hadn’t done much of so far in their careers. Evans even talked with Joyner’s father on the phone later, and his dad thought the conversation was funny and spot-on.
Yet USC claims that Evans violated its policy that prohibits reporting on anything outside of media availability in the practice facility — even though the conversation that Evans details was literally right next to the “USC practice field media backdrop.” It also didn’t reveal any inside or private information, but simply added color to the story and showed the players’ personalities.
USC director of football communications Katie Ryan apparently also had other concerns about Evans when he asked a question at a press conference after it ended, which isn’t uncommon whatsoever, and for speaking with players and coaches on campus in areas that weren’t designated as media availabilities.
“This is a huge overreaction to what the USC program perceived to be a policy violation,” Orange County Register senior editor Todd Harmonson said. “We clearly disagree and stand fully behind Luca.”
Harmonson, sports editor Tom Moore and SCNG publisher Ron Hasse wrote a letter to the university formally asking for the suspension to be lifted on Monday. The university stood by the football team.
“As an institution, USC prides itself on treating the media as a respected partner and key constituent,” the university replied. “We understand the responsibility of reporters is to fairly and objectively cover stories, news events, and their respective beats. As you know, our media policies exist to protect our student-athletes and promote a culture of trust that is critical to building successful programs.
“After careful consideration and in alignment with the sentiment above, USC supports the football program’s decision regarding Luca’s two-week suspension. We recognize this may be disappointing, but we hope you can understand the need to enforce our media policies as we strive to create a positive and comfortable environment for our players and coaches.”
Riley was asked about the suspension on Tuesday directly, but declined to get into specifics.
“I don’t feel like we have too many rules, too many policies, but the ones that we do have, we take it serious because my first job is not to, even though it is part of my job, it’s not to the media, it’s not to the fans, it’s not to anybody else. It’s to protecting our players, and that is first and foremost, that will always be No. 1,” Riley said, via ESPN’s Paolo Uggetti.
“And so there was enough there. I know the article in question was not accurate. There were multiple policies broken and felt like it was far enough that we needed to act with, but we look forward to welcoming the reporter in question once that time’s up.”
Lincoln Riley was asked which specific policies @OCRegSports reporter Luca Evans violated to merit the “suspension.” Full answer below.
When asked again for specific policies, Riley said “there were multiple that were broken, but I’m not going to get into specifics today.” pic.twitter.com/VMKIGcCqi8
— Paolo Uggetti (@PaoloUggetti) September 19, 2023
This isn’t the first time that such an incident has taken place either at USC or under coach Lincoln Riley, who is in his second season with the Trojans after a five-year run at Oklahoma. USC briefly suspended an L.A. Daily News reporter in 2012, when the team was led by head coach Lane Kiffin, after the reporter reported on an injury. Riley once canceled media availability at Oklahoma in 2021 when student journalists reported on developments within the quarterback situation while watching practice from the school’s on-campus journalism building, which was across the street from the practice field.
No. 5 USC will take on Arizona State on Saturday.