DES MOINES, Iowa — Bradley basketball coach Brian Wardle was contrite Wednesday for the actions he and his athletic department took in temporarily suspending coverage access to a respected veteran reporter — actions that sparked a brief national controversy.
The Braves, making their first NCAA tournament appearance in 13 years and coming off their first Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship since 1988, had been looking forward to their Cinderella moment against East Region No. 2 seed Michigan State.
But Wardle and the program, based in Peoria, Illinois, were lambasted on social media and by national writers following revelations that athletic department officials had restricted access to Dave Reynolds, the primary basketball reporter for almost three decades for the hometown Peoria Journal Star.
“When you make a mistake, you’ve got to admit it, you’ve got to own it,” the 39-year-old coach said Wednesday during his media availability. “And then you’ve got to teach a lot of young men that if an apology is necessary, you’ve got to apologize. You’ve got to own it. You’ve got to learn from it, grow and move on.”
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A season’s worth of tension that had begun with reduced access for Reynolds — a three-time Illinois sportswriter of the year — culminated in a denial of access to the team’s NCAA tournament media day Friday, a subsequent firestorm, a university apology the next day and a public apology from Wardle at the team’s Selection Sunday event.
The scorn began with a Journal Star column roasting the university’s perceived thin-skinned reaction.
“(Wardle) said I’m always looking for the negative, and he’s been having this conversation (about it) with me,” Reynolds told his newspaper. “He’s had it three times and nothing has changed. He said something to the effect of, ‘We don’t want you around anymore.’ “
Reynolds also said university assistant director of athletic communications, Jason Veniskey, told him: “You don’t promote the Bradley brand, and basically we don’t want you here.”
Many national news outlets criticized Bradley, along with scores of journalists and fans on Twitter. By Saturday afternoon, the university had recanted its position, issuing a formal apology that Reynolds accepted and restoring his access to the team.
Braves athletic director Chris Reynolds, who was on the NCAA tournament selection committee this past season, returned early from his duties to be at the Selection Sunday assembly at the school.
“I made a big mistake,” Wardle told the crowd, according to the Journal Star. “I wanted to look (Dave Reynolds) in the eye and apologize.”
Wardle, in his fourth season at Bradley, and Reynolds were photographed together Sunday afternoon, arms wrapped around each others’ shoulders.
Although even then, the university wasn’t totally immune from another misstep, quoting Reynolds as saying “Go Braves!” to mark the moment. Reynolds denied saying that — it is part of the understood professional code among the vast majority of beat journalists to provide unbiased coverage in their assignments — and the university corrected its reported statement.
Wardle said Wednesday he also had an extended face-to-face conversation with Reynolds at the selection show watch party and that the two plan to meet after the season.
“We built this program on high-character young men, accountability, responsibility, discipline, unselfishness and being honest communicators,” said Wardle, who owns a 58-74 record as the Braves’ coach and a 20-14 mark this season. “And we’ve grown the program every year and improved it every year. … You keep moving forward and try not to repeat mistakes.”