Duffy vs. Duffey: Is SEC Media Days dead? How can it be fixed?
Editor’s Note: Kevin Duffey and Ty Duffy recently exchanged a series of emails discussing SEC Media Days, the purpose behind the event and how the event could be improved. That conversation has been published here.
I’ve been a part of Saturday Down South since its founding in 2010, and every year, I’m very tuned into SEC Media Days. I’ve been to the event each of the last three years and am getting ready to attend again next week.
However, other than giving people like me and other members of the media something to do in July, and to provide media companies some material that makes the content creation process easier, I’m a little unsure at the entire point of this event.
One thing that always seems to surprise me is the lack of interest from typical college football fans. The circle of friends I’ve had for years are all die-hard college football fans. They went to major universities with big boy brands of football throughout the Southeast. During SEC Media Days, when it seems like (to us) that the entire world is revolving around SEC football, these friends aren’t even aware that the event is happening. It’s not remotely on their radar, and several of them are obsessed with the SEC.
Sure, when Paul Finebaum and Nick Saban got into an argument last year on the set at Media Days, it got a lot of attention. But the attention really had nothing to do with Media Days if you think about it. Finebaum and Saban arguing would get a lot of attention from SEC fans regardless of where it took place or the month of the year in which it took place.
Is the lack of interest from typical college football fans just a function of the fact that Media Days is not much more than press conferences in which coaches say very little, televised during the day while most normal people are working? Probably.
Perhaps this event exists solely for the media and the general fan’s interest isn’t relevant to the conversation?
I think you hit on the operative point. SEC media days happen in mid-July. There is nothing else going on in major sports that week. Almost literally nothing. MLB grinds to a halt for the All-Star Break. Consequential NBA free agency moves have occurred. NFL players don’t show up to training camp for a couple more weeks. The calendar is bleak.
Live sports don’t go year round. The media cycle does. So, we’ve seen the advent of non-event events. The NFL Draft has become its own ancillary season. Signing Day has blown up.
Media Days are the worst of this trend: media putting on a full-court press covering… media. If ESPN wishes to turn this into a fan event, they could jazz it up a little bit. I’d love a “Real Housewives Reunion” style afternoon with all the coaches on a coach answering uncomfortable questions about the previous season.
They are definitely more important for the media than the general fan, especially in a large, disparate sport like college football. If you’re a reporter, you can only be one place out of many per weekend. Even if you’re a national reporter on the road every weekend, you still only get a small portion of the picture. It’s not often you have all the media assembled and every coach and administrator in one place answering questions.
The trouble for fans is these things are more or less perfunctory. Coaches are prepared, on point, and close to the vest. Media members dependent on coaches for access don’t come in flame-throwing. When a coach says something newsworthy and interesting, it’s most often after a game or when caught off guard on a radio show.
Unlike the NFL where every player is available and every team in the Super Bowl has a Rob Gronkowski or Michael Bennett, the few college players made available at these events are the ones mature enough to handle that spotlight.
Stories will be filed. Column inches will be filled. But, there’s seldom anything organic or unexpected that will start up a water cooler conversation (if anything non-political can still do so.)
Is there anything, in particular, you are looking forward to seeing addressed? The biggest intrigue has to be around Hugh Freeze with the recruiting saga?
You mean other than Jim McElwain’s nude shark humping scandal? If I had to power rank topics I’d like to see addressed, it’d go something like this:
1. Nude Jim McElwain look-a-like humping shark
2 – 1032. Everything else
1033. Ole Miss NCAA violations
In all seriousness, when I saw this video of Jim McElwain answering questions on the nude shark humping event for like the 5th time in a week, I couldn’t stop watching it. I laughed and I cried. I can’t decide if we’re living in the golden age of college football coverage or if we’re taking on water and are about to go down with the ship.
Do we think that public relations students are going to be studying Jim McElwain’s response in the above video for the next 50 years learning how not to handle nude shark humping scandals? I think so. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to the excellent line of questioning in that video. I think we have a budding Lester Holt on our hands. I know University of Florida has a good journalism school, but I didn’t know it was that good!
But let’s get back to fixing Media Days. You mentioned “jazzing” it up a bit. I’m glad you bring this up because I’ve been giving this plenty of thought, and I’d like to share some of my ideas. My first one is admittedly pretty bold.
…and here it is: the previous year’s SEC Championship coach gets to kick out a team from league play for the upcoming season, and the announcement is made primetime at SEC Media Days.
I have to give credit to where credit is due. This idea originates from learning about The Ringer’s Bill Simmons’ fantasy football league where the previous year’s champion gets to kick out one team for the next year. But here’s the best part … the announcement isn’t made until the draft. So, everyone shows up to the draft with their draft prep and notes. And one of those poor suckers won’t even get to participate in the draft. Instead, take a hike. We’ll see you next year.
My favorite part of learning about this is that Simmons’ buddy and fellow podcaster, Cousin Sal (also of the Jimmy Kimmel Show) kicked out Mr. Mad Men himself, Jon Hamm. See you next year, Draper!
I don’t see any reason the SEC can’t implement a similar approach.
You bring in all the SEC coaches onto the stage in front of the press. Then, the previous SEC Championship winning head coach steps up to the podium and announces who is out for the upcoming season. The drama would be incredible. The tension would be brutal.
In fact, you might get some similar dynamics to a rose ceremony on ABC’s The Bachelor. My personal favorite part of such events is when the guy or girl who knows the chances of getting cut are high make a last ditch attempt to save himself or herself. Right before a rose is held out, Jessie will blurt out, “Hey, um, Jim … can I talk to you for a minute?” Jim always obliges of course, and they step outside while Jessie makes a humiliating and pathetic final attempt to save herself. It typically doesn’t work.
Getting back to Hoover, this would be amazing. Kevin Sumlin, already feeling some pressure after his AD called him out recently, is sweating bullets. Nick Saban is at the microphone about to announce who’s out.
Kevin: “Nick, I’m sorry, but I really need a word.”
Nick: “Damnit Kevin. What now?”
Kevin: “Just 30 seconds. Please.”
Nick: “Fine, but you know how much I hate Hoover. Let’s keep this quick.”
After a minute, Nick and Kevin walk back onto the stage. Nick is visibly irritated, but also has an evil smile in the corner of his mouth indicating he actually is enjoying this process. He begins to speak: “Ladies and gentlemen. The team that will not be competing in the SEC this season is … (long pause), (really long pause) the Georgia Bulldogs! That’s right, Kirby. You’re done, son. Excuse me while I call Jacob Eason about his transfer options.”
What would the ratings be on this event? I’m thinking Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals levels, 20 million or so…
Yes, it’s interesting you bring up Jim McElwain. Between the shark scandal and the offseason goatee he showed up with during the NCAA Tournament, he’s making a strong campaign for “most interesting man in the SEC.” One more viral happening – hoping for a Florida produced dance video of some sort – or even showing up with a deep sunburn and a sunglasses tan may push him over the edge.
That sort of says something about the SEC right now. Have recent changes made the cast of coaches more boring?
Steve Spurrier has left us. To be truthful, his fastball was topping out in the upper-80s toward the end of the South Carolina tenure. We weren’t getting a “you can’t spell Citrus without UT” as much as we all wanted to make it happen. But, he was without question a character. He was replaced with Will Muschamp who, while among the most GIF-able coaches on the sideline, is a dull media day interview.
This will also be the first year without Les Miles and his unique brand of diction. He wasn’t always interesting. But, there was a reasonable chance you were in for a protracted monologue about an obscure holiday. On paper, Coach O should be a like for like replacement. Though, Orgeron’s chastened “I’ve learned from my Ole Miss mistakes” means he will be doing the exact opposite of what mythical Ed Orgeron would do. Highly improbable he rips his shirt off or challenges anyone to a fight.
The rest of the coaching crew looks pretty somber. A lot of coaches will be coming in with the headlights blaring on them after poor seasons. The SEC no longer has a Mike Leach or a Jim Harbaugh. If Bret Bielema can’t bail us out with one of his patented borderline erotic metaphors, it could be a long week.
There’s no doubt that the SEC coaches are very boring. I blame Saban.
Saban not only crushed the souls of other top tier SEC coaches and chased them out of the league, but also helped bring about a number of Saban clones who are well versed in not saying anything to the media.
If I had to build a ranking of the top 5 most boring coaches heading into SEC Media Days, it’d go as follows:
1. Gus Malzahn – Gus might have an exciting offense, but his personality is as vanilla as it gets.
2. Butch Jones – After Jones finally gets canned from Tennessee, look for him to be a star giving motivational speeches to JUCO coaching staffs where he teaches them to “focus on one game at a time” and “develop a winning attitude.”
3. Kirby Smart – Will Muschamp 2.0 minus the energy, facial expressions and, well, just about anything interesting.
4. Mark Stoops – He’s the less controversial Stoops brother, plus he’s coaching Kentucky football.
5. Jim McElwain – His folksy style was charming in the beginning, but Florida fans can’t stand it anymore. Each time he looks into the camera and remarks about how cool the environment is in which he finds himself, he reminds Florida fans that he’s probably really in over his head.
You’re right, though, Bret Bielema is the biggest character we’ve got left. I’m concerned, though, because it seems like he only has one card to play at all times. It’s the card in which he describes various elements of football as sexy. Offensive linemen are sexy. Beating Texas is borderline erotic. You get the picture. Can he be entertaining in a different way? I think Media Days 2017 will make this clear one way or another.
So, the coaches are boring, and the structure of the event doesn’t help either. Which brings me to my second recommendation for fixing SEC Media Days…
My recommendation is to take a page from the 2016 Republican primary debate circuit. Just as these debates had 10+ candidates on stage arguing in front of a primetime audience, it makes too much sense not to do something similar for the SEC coaches.
The positioning onstage of the coaches is an important element. Just as the candidates with the highest polling numbers get centerstage, and candidates that fail to hit certain polling thresholds aren’t permitted to participate, the same would hold true for SEC Media Days.
As such, you’d have Saban and McElwain center stage, with the remaining coaches in order from most wins to least going from there. If you don’t make a bowl game, you don’t get to participate. So, Hugh Freeze and that guy who coaches Missouri are left off stage.
The next question that comes to mind is who would the moderators be? As we know, this is an important element of any debate. What say you?
This will sound hyperbolic, but bear with me. Nick Saban may be the worst thing to happen to college football.
What! You’re crazy. Ok, maybe not crazy. In fact, you’re probably right. But go ahead and explain…
His relentless success makes the competition worse. He has spawned imitators, from his coaching tree or otherwise. The college football coaching ranks are filled with dour little Saban-esque princes who can’t bear having their process questioned by the media. Even if their “process” led to a 3-5 conference finish.
Being a curt, condescending jerk can work for you. But, it’s a persona one must cultivate by winning.
I agree we are stuck waiting for Bielema to say something interesting. Though, Butch Jones always seems a tough question away from a “Champions of Life” moment. I’d also like to see his conversion from top buttoning his golf shirts to leaving the top button open like a normal person addressed publicly.
I would be in favor of something resembling the Republican debate format. A key element would be incorporating the earlier “kids table” debate using the previous season’s conference standings instead of poll numbers. Bielema, Freeze, and Mullen coming on at 6pm instead of 8pm and whining about how they weren’t included in the main panel would be excellent.
As far as moderator goes, the clear answer is Paul Finebaum. I’m not sure there’s a strong second, though Rece Davis does everything with aplomb. I would also steal an idea from White House press conferences and bring in a cast of Skype participants. Finebaum callers, YouTube personalities (Stingray may need to shave his surprisingly becoming beard), message board trolls. A true collision of SEC coaches and SEC culture.
The kids table is brilliant. It’s humiliating just enough to introduce additional incentive into becoming bowl eligible which is a win for everyone. I’m thinking the kids table debate is simply answering questions from a string of Finebaum callers. Again, the goal is to be irritating and humiliating for the participants.
For the main debate, I’m thinking a moderator table trio of Paul Finebaum, Steve Spurrier and Jim Harbaugh. Finebaum provides some legitimacy.
Spurrier simply asks questions in a condescending manner while always seeming to point out that he himself was awesome. For example, “Coach Muschamp, you got slaughtered by Clemson last year. Do you think you’ll ever be able to beat them five straight like I did?”
Jim Harbaugh is the wild card. He’ll likely just be confrontational in childish ways. “Coach Saban, how about you and I head out to the parking lot and see who can run a faster 40?”
I like it.
In all seriousness, do we think Media Days will exist in its current form in 10 years? Considering the college football landscape and TV elements, what would you predict Media Days to look like in 10 years? What about the other conferences?
What will media days look like in 10 years? Ten years is longer with new technology than it once was. Ten years ago the iPhone was just launching. The world has changed dramatically. Moreover, predicting that requires me to predict what media will look like in 10 years. That is a tough ask.
Who will be attending media days? The 10-year trendline for local newspapers, if there is a trend line that has them lasting that long, is not great. The same goes for over-the-air radio and local television. National outlets? Many of them, not just ESPN, have seen substantial layoffs this summer. The long-term prognosis for much of the industry covering the event there now isn’t good.
Will it be televised? ESPN has built media days into a televised event. It serves two major purposes. It fills airtime during a slow period. It promotes ESPN’s upcoming college football slate to its broad sports audience tuning into its network. The latter may not exist ten years from now.
I believe the SEC will be holding some form of a promotional event during the mid-summer. I’m picturing the next SEC commissioner, Steve Jobs with a slight drawl, giving a presentation geared largely toward advertisers and subscribers for the SEC Network streaming service. Pundits formulate strong opinions about the offerings. There’s little in the way of actual reporting or questioning of coaches.
Perhaps Apple’s Tim Cook wants the gig? After all he’s an Auburn grad. Nevermind.
I guess in ten years when the SEC is one of four 16-team super-conferences, Media Days will likely be based in Atlanta and probably be a 10-day long affair. It’ll be streamed live on Amazon which bought out the SEC football rights from the beleaguered ESPN which needed cash to stay afloat. Amazon Prime members will also get the after-party event featuring DJ Johnny Manziel streamed live. You’ll be able to get the event streamed live to your phone while you have your Whole Foods tailgating grub delivered free. Pretty soon, the games will be played at Amazon distribution centers because we’ll never need to leave our homes for anything, especially our football.
I guess, like most things in sports, we’re dependent on the star power of the participants themselves. We arguably haven’t had a major star at SEC Media Days since Johnny Manziel’s must-watch appearance back in 2013. He had just come off his superstar season, then had an offseason of controversial headlines culminating in him blowing off the Mannings just prior to entering the media frenzy in Hoover. A nationally televised sit-down with Joe Tessitore was the climactic moment of Media Days. I’m not sure it’ll ever be topped.
Side note: I know Johnny Manziel has turned into a cartoonish character for many fans today. Most images you get of him involve him shirtless, showing off increasing numbers of tattoos, his hair receding more and his belly protruding a bit more. He’s 40 hours in on a three day rave out in rural California. But, do we remember how smooth and capable he was at handling the media? How many SEC players could sit on a set with the professional Joe Tessitore on live national television answering tough questions? It’s really impressive.
Maybe that’s the biggest problem, period. A lack of star power. Both at the coaching level and the player level. We were spoiled for a while. Tebow to Cam to Johnny, with a slew of other interesting talents like AJ McCarron and AJ McCarron’s girlfriend.
Who’s the most interesting person heading into Media Days this year? Jalen Hurts? He was designed in a lab at Saban Corp., so I don’t see him being overly interesting. Maybe one of the transfer quarterbacks such as Jarrett Stidham or Malik Zaire? I’d love to see Jacob Eason stroll into the event with long flowing hair and his arm around a super model. Or maybe we can get Shea Patterson to make a bunch of controversial headlines this weekend to bring about true second coming of Johnny Football?
There’s definitely something to the lack of star power. On the field? Hurts, for sure, if he wins the starting job. Off it? We aren’t getting it from the coaches this year. We may not get it from the players either. If you’re looking for star power, you start at quarterback. Things have been rather dull at that position on and off-the-field for the SEC since Johnny Manziel left. No one has really had the showman quality of him or a Cam Newton. Heck, we haven’t even had an Aaron Murray.
The closest thing we’ve seen, maybe, has been Chad Kelly. He certainly has provided more than his share of off-the-field incidents. But, for however much “swag” he brought to the table, Kelly was neither a star nor a compelling villain. He’s not even the most compelling bad boy Ole Miss athlete this decade. That crown goes to Marshall Henderson, if only for “the gif.”
We’re all waiting to see how Jarrett Stidham pans out at Auburn and whether Malik Zaire, who let us not forget has played about two and a half total games as a starting quarterback, makes the difference at Florida. But, those are storylines for September. Is anyone interested in hearing them talk?