HOOVER, Ala. — It took SEC commissioner Greg Sankey mere seconds Monday to reference to what everyone in the room was thinking: “What are we doing here so early?”
It’s July 10, and this year’s edition of SEC Media Days was already under way, the unofficial kickoff to the 2017-18 football season. The first game was 52 days away, with the recent College World Series still fresh in everyone’s mind, including the commissioner’s.
“I hope you enjoyed the 12 days,” Sankey said during his introductory comments.
“We used to sing 12 Days of Christmas. We’re working on 12 Days of Summer as a new song. It does go quickly.”
That it’s too early in the month to be doing this kind of thing is not in doubt. A relatively quiet offseason saw very little news and essentially ended on Saturday with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema both becoming a father for the first time and losing former colleague Bob Elliott, whose fight with cancer ended at the age of 64.
— Bret Bielema (@BretBielema) July 8, 2017
Bielema got emotional talking about them when not receiving almost non-stop congratulations. Of course, during his first few seconds at the podium he also mentioned Chipotle, used the term “a-la-carte” and referred to “butt-dialing the commish.”
“I don’t think he got much sleep [before], and if he did he isn’t now,” Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen said.
Although LSU and Tennessee were also making the rounds on Monday, this year’s main event isn’t until Wednesday, when Nick Saban and Alabama, along with the corresponding throng of fans that will invade the Wynfrey Hotel lobby, are scheduled to attend. While no one is conceding the conference championship to the Crimson Tide, the three-time reigning champions might come close to being a unanimous choice when the media voting is revealed on Friday.
Otherwise, these media days are primary about one thing, the SEC’s image. Sankey even commented on it before talking extensively about history and potential rule changes.
“As a reminder, SEC teams have won eight of the last 11 national championships,” he said after rattling off last year’s major accomplishments in sports other than football. “Four different teams have claimed those titles, unique among the conferences.”
Yet with Alabama losing to Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship, a shadow of doubt hangs over the league’s front-runner status.
“It Just Means More” may be the league’s motto, but the ACC has made its mark of late. Clemson gave the ACC its second national title in four years, when the SEC won — gasp — only one. The same occurred with the Heisman Trophy.
Few seem to notice that the SEC still dominates the NFL draft, or that the Crimson Tide faced their 10th ranked opponent when they came up a second short against the Tigers.
That opened the SEC to the perception of being a wounded conference, especially after dominating for so long.
So having the first ballroom blitz of the media season is especially important this year, even though the echoes of holiday fireworks can still be heard.
Image over substance took over here a long time ago, even before ESPN showed up and erected stages in the main room and hallway. It corresponded to the scheduling, as SEC Media Days used to be held much later.
The first one was in 1985 at the Holiday Inn Medical Center in nearby Birmingham, from July 30 through Aug. 2. As bigger and earlier became a rallying call the starting date moved up from the 25th to the 17th to the 13th.
It went from being after the British Open and the opening of NFL training camps to before the MLB All-Star Game. Breakfast at Wimbledon isn’t until next weekend.
However, because of the league’s insatiable drive to be first little real news will probably happen, even as Sankey expressed his hope to the media that “this is a productive week for each of you.”
Coaches won’t open training camp until August. Quarterbacks are fresh off participating in passing camps. Players really can’t answer questions about any opponents without referring to last year’s game (if they played).
They’re otherwise in the middle of summer conditioning and drills, which ironically, Sankey touched on when asked about the possibility of a going to a 14-week schedule to give every football team an extra bye.
“We don’t want to see practice start earlier in the summer,” he said.
Everything else has already, though, reinforcing that the SEC always wants to be first.