Media days circus comes to town

Originally Published: July 12, 2013
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Some time on Tuesday, I'll make my annual walk through the stifling Alabama heat to the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., where I'll be met by an excited sea of Alabama fans, who will undoubtedly be waiting three days for a glimpse of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban or, even better, their first look at quarterback AJ McCarron's newest tattoo.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/Butch DillWhat will South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier say at SEC media days? We'll find out soon.

I'll make my way up an escalator to a spacious second-floor hotel ballroom, where the familiar sounds of crunching Golden Flake potato chips and rapping keyboards will mark the unofficial end of my summer.

And, thankfully, the unofficial start of the 2013 college football season.

For three days, more than 1,100 media members will gather to listen to each of the SEC's 14 head coaches profess their optimism and expectations about a new season.

Last year, they heard Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin talk about how the Aggies are going to get their brains beat in. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier said how happy he is that the Gamecocks are playing Georgia early in the season again, and Tennessee's Derek Dooley proclaimed that the rest of the SEC won't be kicking around the Volunteers anymore.

Well, Dooley got half of it right last season, at least. He won't be getting kicked around in the SEC any longer. The Volunteers fired him with one game remaining in the Vols' 5-7 season and replaced him with former Cincinnati coach Butch Jones.

Jones will be one of four new SEC coaches; Kentucky's Mark Stoops, Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Arkansas' Bret Bielema are the others.

Last season, when Bielema was coaching at Wisconsin, he told The Sporting News that, "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC -- in any way, shape or form." In April, after he left the Badgers for the Razorbacks, Bielema boasted about his record in the Big Ten being so much better than Saban's at Michigan State. Undoubtedly, he will be reminded of his comments at least 100 times during next week's interviews.

Over the next two weeks, every FBS conference in the country will stage its annual media day gathering. While some leagues will meet in much larger cities or more picturesque settings, nothing will match SEC media days, which get bigger and more ridiculous every year.

In what other league has a head coach phoned in from another state for fear that he would be served with a subpoena in a lawsuit, as former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer did in 2004? (Fulmer was actually served the papers in Hoover in 2008). In 2009, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's virginity was the topic du jour, and two years later a fan asked Saban to autograph her houndstooth-colored bra.

As former Missouri receiver T.J. Moe joked during his first SEC media days a year ago, the SEC has "prettier girls, the air is fresher and the toilet paper is thicker." And, when former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino took the podium in Hoover, you certainly had to watch where you stepped.

While SEC media days resemble a three-ring circus, other FBS leagues' media gatherings are more intimate (and thus productive). The American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East) assembles near the vacation homes of the rich and famous in Newport, R.I. The highlight is the annual clambake, which is held on the lawn of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's summer home. In 2007, former Rutgers tailback Brian Leonard famously devoured nine lobsters in one sitting.

The American might need to hand out name tags and maps this year; Pittsburgh and Syracuse left for the ACC, and UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU moved over from Conference USA. Louisville and Rutgers are moving on after this coming season.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater and Louisville will see some new American opponents this fall.

The ACC used to rotate its media days event between southern cities, but it seems to have settled at the Grandover Resort, which is near the league's offices in Greensboro, N.C. It's really more of a golf outing. I once watched former Boston College and NC State coach Tom O'Brien play 18 holes while rarely looking up from a New York Times crossword puzzle. He seemed elated to be there.

In terms of sheer size, Big Ten media days come pretty close to those of the SEC. If Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and his staff distributed credentials to every fan site in the Midwest, it might actually be able to match the SEC in terms of media attendance. But college football's most venerable league prefers an atmosphere in Chicago that's closer to a stockholders meeting. The two-day event closes with a kickoff luncheon, in which fans can attend autograph sessions with players and coaches for $100 per seat.

Last year, we squirmed when Penn State's Bill O'Brien was asked about Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky. This year, Ohio State's Urban Meyer figures to be bombarded with questions about murder suspect Aaron Hernandez, who played for him at Florida.

The Big 12 meets in Dallas, where nearly everyone else plays second fiddle to Oklahoma and Texas. I'm still amazed the event doesn't just rotate between Austin and Norman.

The Pac-12 probably does it best with its media day. With its schools now stretching from Arizona to Colorado to Washington, the league crams it into 4 ½ hours in one day in Los Angeles.

At least that gives USC's Lane Kiffin less time to say something he'll regret.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball