Hoover, AL—The year was 1985 and the SEC had an idea it hoped would increase the preseason coverage of college football.
Several years before the SEC had disbanded the “Skywriters Tour” where about 40 selected media would fly to all 10 campuses on a charted plane. It was a reporter’s dream because they were given lots of access to the coaches and players and had the opportunity to do one-on-one interviews and develop relationships.
But the tour eventually grew too big and had to be discontinued much to the dismay of the participants. Those I’ve spoken to who were part of it simply said that a good time was had by all. And they said it with a wry smile.
Instead, the conference would arrange to bring all 10 SEC football coaches and some players to Birmingham where they would address all of the media who cared to attend. And thus, in a meeting room at the Medical Forum near the old downtown Sheraton Hotel, SEC Media Days were born.
I attended my first SEC Media Days in 1987 and haven’t missed one since. For those of you keeping score at home, that would be 31 straight for your humble scribe.
You might say that in three decades, it’s changed just a bit.
The early versions of SEC Media Days drew about 100 people. When the 2017 meetings started on Monday morning with an opening address by Commissioner Greg Sankey, there were over 1,000 credentialed members of the media in the Wynfrey Hotel. The SEC Network, which began in 2014, will devote 30 hours of live coverage to this event. Because the SEC holds its media days first, reporters from New York to California were here. The biggest radio row this side of the Super Bowl stretches from one end of the hotel lobby to the entrance of the Galleria Mall.
It is a really big deal.
Now the purpose of SEC Media Days is the basically same as when it was founded 32 years ago. It is a big, four-day commercial for the SEC. It is incredibly well organized. There is a script that accounts for every minute that the coach and players from each school will spend in the building. They are shuttled from room to room and the pressure is on the SEC staff and the staff members from each school to stay on schedule.
But because it is so big and so well-organized and orchestrated there are very few moments of spontaneity and almost no news. Such as:
**–The year Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer did not attend (2004) because he thought he might get subpoenaed in a lawsuit filed by two former Alabama coaches. Fulmer made his appearance via speakerphone and was fined $10,000 for missing the meeting.
**–The year Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer attended (2008) and WAS subpoenaed in a lawsuit filed by an Alabama booster.
**–In 2001 when Florida coach Steve Spurrier was asked why there was no playoff in college football. Spurrier, a big playoff proponent, chose to call out SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, the godfather of the BCS, who was standing in the back of the room.
**–In 2009 one SEC coach left Florida’s Tim Tebow off the preseason all-conference team. The media went into a frenzy trying to determine the identity of the coach and Spurrier, by now at South Carolina, admitted it was him. He also said that his director of football operations, Jamie Speronis, had mistakenly put Javan Snead of Ole Miss on the ballot. Spurrier changed his ballot so that Tebow, also a Heisman winner at Florida, would be a unanimous pick.
**–In 2004 LSU’s Nick Saban was addressing the print media in the main ball room when suddenly a dog walked down the. It was Saban’s dog, a boxer named Lizzy, who had been in the hotel room but escaped when housekeeping showed up.
The point is, this thing is so tightly scripted now that there is very little news that will be generated this week. With the advent of the internet, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle any morsel of news about these teams was distributed long ago.
Accordingly, some have said in the new world, media days have really outlived their usefulness. They say it is an all-too-predictable, exercise that serves no real purpose.
I respectfully disagree. The games do not start until the end of August and SEC fans want something, anything, that looks or feels like football. And until practice begins this is the best we can do. SEC Media Days serve to hit the reset button and officially begin the countdown to when the season will mercifully start.
What else are you gonna watch? “Law And Order” reruns?
So for the next four days we’re going to talk about football. Sounds like fun to me.