UPDATE: On Saturday, FIU sent the following statement in connection with Herald coverage of its football team:
"We are very disappointed that The Miami Herald has decided not to cover our football home opener, although we have credentialed members of the Herald staff. We did not issue a media credential to the Herald's beat reporter because of concerns we have brought up to the Herald's reporter and editors over the past few years about the reporter's interactions with our student athletes, coaches, and staff and the nature of the resulting coverage. He is not banned from FIU or FIU Stadium. He just does not have additional access beyond that of the public.
We welcome media coverage of our athletics program that is professional and respectful of our student athletes and our institution.
We will be meeting with the Herald's leadership in the next few days. We hope to reach a resolution and continue a positive working relationship."
For the first time since FIU created a football team, the Miami Herald will not cover the Panthers’ home season opening game Saturday because the school has refused to provide a press credential to the newspaper’s beat reporter.
FIU athletics officials denied the Herald’s request for a game pass for reporter David J. Neal, who has been covering FIU sports since June, 2011. Passes were granted for a Herald columnist and photographer.
No explanation was given by FIU, but Neal’s access to FIU coaches and athletes had been dwindling for months, to the point where he was no longer permitted to attend football practice or conduct interviews. Last week, when Neal attempted to write a story on the FIU women’s soccer team, he was told no one was allowed to talk to him.
“It’s unprecedented for any local team to refuse to credential our beat reporter without reason,” Miami Herald Executive Editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez said of the four pro and two college teams the Herald covers on a regular basis. “The team does not get to choose who covers the program.”
Sandra Gonzalez-Levy, FIU’s senior vice president for external relations, said it was unfortunate that the Herald would not staff FIU’s game against Bethune-Cookman University at FIU Stadium on campus.
“We’re very disappointed the Herald has decided on this course,” she said. “Credentials were given to other reporters. We regret that this is the Herald’s choice.”
The ban on Neal was imposed without an explanation from Pete Garcia, FIU’s athletic director and executive director of sports and entertainment. Garcia received an email Monday from Herald Managing Editor Rick Hirsch inquiring about “evidence of unprofessional treatment” of Neal. Previously, Herald Executive Sports Editor Jorge Rojas also sought an explanation for FIU’s actions, with no response from Garcia. On Wednesday, FIU denied the Herald’s request for Neal’s credential.
“We are the only major media that covers a wide spectrum of men and women FIU sports programs year-round, from baseball to basketball to football to volleyball and soccer,” Hirsch wrote. “As far as we can tell, David has done a diligent, thorough job of reporting on the Golden Panthers. Not all of the coverage is positive. Teams win and teams lose. Programs have successes and stumbles. But in our review of his work, we believe it stands up to scrutiny as fair and professional.”
Neal covered the Florida Panthers for 11 years and was one of the Herald’s Miami Dolphins beat writers for four years.
FIU is coming off a 1-11 season, Coach Ron Turner’s first. Turner replaced Mario Cristobal, who was fired by Garcia in 2012 after leading FIU to its first two bowl games in 2010 and 2011.
“FIU is an important part of our coverage and we hope to find a resolution,” Marqués Gonzalez said.