HOOVER, Ala. — My mind can’t quite stop reeling at the thought, but it just won’t go away.
When will it no longer be worth it to attend SEC media days?
That day may be fast approaching.
While this year’s version looked like many of its predecessors, with television cameras everywhere and boisterous local fans filling the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel, in reality it was anything but.
Nearly all of the national media took off after Alabama went though on Wednesday morning and skipped the final five, six schools. Fewer people were asking questions. When Kentucky and Vanderbilt had their turns on Thursday there was the equivalent of tumbleweeds going down the hallways.
Part of that simply had to do with the state of journalism. The No. 1 topic of discussion in the hallways away from the microphones was about employment survival. Whereas reporters used to hob-nob and network on the side, nowadays they mostly congratulate each other on still having a job.
The way coaches and players are told to downplay anything potentially controversial is also a factor.
We’re a long way from Steve Spurrier. The biggest highlight of the 2019 SEC Media Days by far was when he, Herschel Walker and Archie Manning took the stage together to promote ESPN Films "Saturdays in the South," in conjunction with the 150thanniversary of the college football celebration.
The Ol’ Ball Coach still has it, and Walker was right there with him with the anecdotes and zingers.
Oh my, how things have changed in just a few years.
Media days was, and is, a terrific concept. The unofficial start to the season, it gets everyone ignoring how hot it is outside and excited about what’s to come.
However, it’s becoming less and less of a desirable destination for reporters, especially those primarily deemed writers. They’re like the offensive linemen of media, absolutely crucial for the success of the industry, yet increasingly overlooked and pushed aside.
Consider the physical setup this past week.
The players and coaches each had up to 12 scheduled stops over their four-hour designated time period, and that didn’t include extra visits to the ESPN stages, anything on radio row or what they did for their own local media.
Ten of those rooms were geared to specific outlets in partnership with the league: Two for CBS, CBS digital, SEC radio, Sirius XM, ESPN, SEC Network, SEC video and the ESPN network set. The final room, conveniently just off radio row, was for the ESPN show Marty and McGee.
That left the main room with the podium, where the coaches all stood before a giant video board on live television, and what was being called the electronic media room.
There used to be an Internet room, a TV room and a radio room. They’ve all been mashed into one. Before long that may be combined with the main room as well.
Thus, the idea of someone outside of the broadcast partners getting an original and unique quote has almost become laughable. What we’re getting is a watered-down, streamlined event.
Even after four days there was nearly no news this year. There weren’t even many hot topics like alcohol sales, scheduling or expansion (league or playoff).
One that could have been was the recruiting schedule.
Years ago, the NCAA passed what was commonly referred to as the Nick Saban rule, banning head coaches from visiting campuses and evaluating the players they were considering recruiting during the offseason.
The vagueness of the bump rule was cited as a big reason for doing so, but in reality it stemmed from coaches getting sick of being outworked by Saban. They wanted to be able to enjoy some down time and go on vacation.
Ironically, now they can’t even think about taking time off in June because with the early signing period it’s become a crucial month in recruiting.
“With the signing day moving up to December, it's important because the recruiting cycle has moved up a few months,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “You got guys coming on official visits, but the biggest difference is what the month of June has become. It's a huge deal.”
It was noticeable that coaches weren’t railing against it at SEC media days. They weren’t really railing about anything.
“I'm going to talk out of both sides of my mouth and try not to give you coach talk, but the month of June kind of disappeared,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “You've got — it's June 1st. You've got official visits. You've got camps. You've got your own kids on campus. It's flown by.
“It has also worked really well for the University of Missouri at this time.”
Thus, the new reality of college football, sort of like with spread offenses. A few years ago coaches used to wonder at media days if speeding up the game was in the best interest of the players and college football. Now they just try and figure out how to use it to their advantage.
The closest anyone may have come to offering a dissenting opinion this week was when Saban spoke out about his concerns regarding the transfer portal.
“In my opinion, if we're going to have a transfer portal that's good for the players, then we ought to have a rule that says, regardless of what happens when you transfer, you have to sit out a year,” he said. “That's how it's been for years and years and years, all right?
“At one point in time there was 65 waivers that were given there year. So everybody's expectation is I can transfer and get a waiver. And I don't think that's a good thing.”
Not even that created much discussion, though.
Overall, the big winner this week wasn’t from any of the teams, but popular ESPN reporter and College GameDay contributor Marty Smith, who was seemingly everywhere. That’s not to be negative at all, as he shrewdly worked the convention and handed out copies of his new book “Never Settle.”
Kudos to him. He owned radio row, where very few players were seen and nearly no coaches.
Next year, SEC media days will return to Atlanta, followed by Nashville in 2021. Sort of like with the popularity of the NFL draft it’ll be an even bigger show, and draw more attention from fans, but continue to be less about the people originally intended, reporters.
Consequently, more media outlets will wonder if it’s worth the expense or effort to attend — just like how college football fans are wondering if they should spend the money for tickets or opt to stay and watch it from their couch at home.