HOOVER, Ala. – The Southeastern Conference tries to stay one step ahead of the rest of college football, even when it comes to media days. That’s why the SEC moved up its annual gab fest to the earliest date yet, and days ahead of every other conference, hijacking the headlines all last week.
“We’re fairly intentional about these dates, because we have the opportunity to have the conversation first,” commissioner Greg Sankey said as he opened the league’s four-day extravaganza on July 11. “I think it’s dubbed the unofficial kickoff (of college football), so I’ll take that. We like to take a leadership role.”
Indeed, no conference has managed to turn its media days into as much of a spectacle as the SEC. What began as a two-day event in a single conference room at the Birmingham Holiday Inn Medical Center in 1985 – with fewer than 100 reporters and no live-TV coverage – is now a full-fledged media circus.
It grew to three days for several years, then four in 2014. It moved to The Wynfrey Hotel in 2001 and now takes up an entire floor, multiple ballrooms, not counting a massive radio row (and hundreds of autograph-seeking fans who crowd the adjacent lobby) on another level.
Unofficially, but according to Georgia coach Kirby Smart, some 1,500 media were credentialed this year.
Oh, and for the second year, ESPN’s SEC Network broadcast the event live, all day every day – creating as much news as it covered, thanks to on-air agitator Paul Finebaum’s various off-air arguments with coaches. In these dog days of summer, fans eat it up, and the league loves it.
The network has “entirely reshaped the look, the feel, the access people have,” Sankey told SEC Country. Which begs the question: What is next for the league’s ever-evolving media days?
“It’s a good question that we are continuing to try to answer,” Sankey said. “What’s the next iteration that makes this event of even higher interest to our fans? We want to keep thinking about what’s next. This conference has thought ahead about what’s next over time. We’ll see how that manifests itself.”
Sankey is keeping the conference’s specific ideas a secret for now, but he did confirm to SEC Country that there is an ongoing conversation about potentially big changes to media days. He mentioned the league’s recent discussion of moving its baseball tournament out of Hoover until an “enormous commitment from the city (is made) to change that campus, which I think will support an even greater event.”
Football media days “is different,” Sankey said, “but we continue to talk about what opportunities might be there.”
Could the event move out of the greater Birmingham area for the first time in its history? The commissioner didn’t want to go there. But if the SEC is looking to go bigger and connect even more of its fans, perhaps a larger city in the heart of the league footprint makes sense.
Atlanta, for instance. The SEC championship game already is played there. A fancy new football stadium is coming soon. Hundreds (thousands?) more fans could and likely would attend an event like that. But …
“We’ve got a legacy here,” Sankey said of Hoover. “We’ve got a facility that works. There may be opportunities to magnify what we do and who we are here, but that remains …”
He trailed off. If big changes are coming, though, they aren’t calendar-related. Sankey believes the league has the right date for and length of media days now.
“We could make it 14 days, give every school its day, but that would certainly be lengthy,” he said. “I think we found a date where we’re ahead of the other conversations. We’re at a time where (Major League Baseball’s) All-Star break is that week. There’s not a lot of football news – we’re before NFL training camps – so we sort of feed the desire.”
And that’s really what all of this is about. SEC Media Days and the coverage of it keeps growing because fans’ appetite for information does, too. ESPN and SEC Network know that as well as anyone.
What they don’t know, they say, is what changes are on the horizon.
“That’s going to be up to the conference,” said Rosalyn Durant, vice president of college sports programming at ESPN. “I’ve been to a lot of media days and this one is definitely special as it is. Whatever they do to add to it, to enhance it, I know it will continue to be special. I’m sure when the time comes and there’s something to talk about, they’ll come to us and get our opinion.
“It’s the conference’s decision, but we’ll be here to cover it.”
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