Mitchell: SEC Media Days - What We Learned
Alabama's Nick Saban
SEC Media Days left something to be desired in terms of information and excitement, but it's always intense. Then mix 56 interviews over two and a half days with ~1200 credentialed media, and you're bound to get a few interesting story lines. CollegeFootballNews' lead SEC columnist Russ Mitchell on what we learned from #SECKickoff12.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb
HOOVER, Ala – The highlight of commissioner Mike Slive’s State-of-the-SEC speech which kicked off Media Days on Tuesday was when it mercifully ended 24 minutes later. Not to say Slive is a lethargic speaker, which he is not, but usually he takes good advantage of the assembled hundreds of information-rabid journalists to convey his most important messages.
Not this year.
Instead, Slive’s speech was dotted with quotes from/nods to Shakespeare, Winston Churchill and Muhammad Ali. All great men who did great things, as Slive has done not just for the member schools of the SEC, but in advancing the cause of college sports as a whole -– most especially, college football.
But while Slive may have tripled the revenue that SEC schools receive during his decade reign, and in the past used his leverage on behalf of the student-athlete, he did nothing to advance the information sharing nor excitement that normally personifies this most unique of sporting “events”. This set the tone for what has been one of the least insightful SEC Media Days in modern years.
Perhaps when you’re on top you can play hard to get.
Nevertheless, this IS the SEC, and this week’s circus did provide a few story lines that matter -– both to the conference and the sport itself.
• The rich get richer.
While Slive refused to go into details on the new broadcasting contract and rumored Project SEC (Network) that are still in negotiations, he did mention that the SEC’s third tier broadcast -– SEC Syndication –- now reaches ~80 million people. So there’s that, and the aforementioned tripling of revenue per school during the last 10 years. The arms race continues with no end in sight.
• Foot in mouth disease.
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel made a blunder Tuesday when speaking to the “greatness” of the disgraced ex-Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. It’s not merely the on-field adjustments that Texas A&M and Missouri will face in 2012; it’s the plethora of off-field distractions as well -– the first and perhaps most significant being media attention/requests. Listening to his complete comments, it's clearer that Pinkel’s intent was that regardless of the cloud that now darkens the legendary coach’s stature, his many on-field accomplishments still remain.
• Do you want to Supersize that?
Both Pinkel and Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin side-stepped questions as to the size differential between their players and the SEC averages by position, particularly in the lines and therein, the defensive line. Missouri, for example, does not boast a single defensive lineman on the roster that weighs north of 295 pounds. Both coaches may continue to avoid these questions if they so choose ... right up until Sept. 8.
• Out of the mouths of babes.
The most quotable person all week was Missouri senior wide receiver T.J. Moe. The 6-foot, 200-pounder from O'Fallon, Mo., was a media darling, and easily matched last year’s most quotable athlete: Ole Miss’s Kentrell Lockett (now of the Washington Redskins). A few of Moe’s more colorful statements: “Don't think we're five-year-old kids running around without a helmet. (Missouri's) ready to compete.” When questioned one too many times on SEC size/speed, "They've (SEC) also got prettier girls, the air's fresher and the toilet paper's thicker." And, “We (Big 12) put our best athletes on offense, they (SEC) put their best athletes on defense.” Mo Moe indeed (though that last one’s likely to make the bulletin board rounds).
• Who let the Dawgs out?
It has now come from three sources within Georgia football that the team will likely dress every suspended (or thought to be suspended) player for the Missouri game in Week Two, except for cornerback Sanders Commings. There's no official confirmation from Georgia other than from Mark Richt himself, who on Thursday morning said with a smile, “I know what's going to happen ... but I'm not telling you.”
There's a reason for keeping it quiet. Remember, these are Georgia school rules the players have, or are thought to have, violated, not SEC or NCAA. As such, UGA can wait until game week before they make any final decision and subsequent announcement.
• Is your dance card full or empty?
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, even at 67, has lost none of his country wit.
A media favorite, Spurrier didn’t disappoint. When asked about Georgia’s schedule, the Head Ball Coach replied, “I have nothing to do with schedules. If I made the schedule, Georgia (would) be playing LSU and we'd be playing Ole Miss.”
While both funny and zinging Ole Miss in its crossfire, Spurrier’s point was well taken: In 2012, Georgia plays only two teams that ended last year’s regular season with at least eight wins -- Spurrier’s Gamecocks (11) and Georgia Tech (8).
• Home cookin’.
Take the Preseason SEC Media Team with a grain of salt. The event is held on the outskirts of Birmingham, and as such each year the largest contingent in attendance are naturally local Alabama reporters, so the ballots are stuffed a wee bit. For example, Auburn’s Corey Lemonier (first team with 102 votes) along with Alabama’s Jesse Williams (84) and Damion Square (44) are all talented defensive ends, but South Carolina’s Devin Taylor garnered a low 24 votes.
That said, LSU was the big winner; the media members in attendance picked the Tigers to win the West and conference with 129 votes to Bama’s 65, and selected seven LSU players to the first team (Bama was second with five). Georgia was selected to win the East, setting up a rematch in the conference championship game ... according to the media, who don't exactly have the best track record in this regard.
• Biting the hand that fed you.
One of the glaring mistakes for both the Preseason Coaches and Media All-SEC Teams was the promotion of South Carolina sophomore Jadeveon Clowney to first team defensive end, over his teammate, the senior Taylor (relegated to second team). One of the reasons Clowney and Melvin Ingram (first round NFL selection by San Diego) had such success in 2011 was that Taylor occupied more double teams than Michael Jordan in his prime. Watch to see the kind of season Taylor has now that the focus has shifted from him to Clowney.
• ”I’m on the top of the world!”
On Thursday, Nick Saban spoke emphatically on the need for the upcoming CFB playoff to include the four best teams, not winners of a particular conference.
Said Saban, “Whoever is making a statement (in favor of) conference champions right now is making a statement against the SEC.”
Simply winning one’s conference does not make one the fourth-best-or-better team in America. Moreover, if we stay at a four-team playoff (which isn’t enough) and insist on having 124 teams in the FBS, which conference champions do you take?
• It’s Tradition.
Like many southern football fans, I’m all in favor of tradition. But if there are going to be 14 teams in the SEC (for now), SEC Media Days needs to expand to four if not five days. If that happens, then it’s time for the event to move to Atlanta.
First, it’s not just coaches, it’s three players per team. That’s 56 interviews to conduct within basically two and a half days. This event is already ridiculous enough -– that’s madness. Not to mention all the associated responsibilities the event creates: non-stop television shows, column inches, and radio row madness. Moreover, while the Wynfrey Hotel has a lot of old school charm, this event has clearly outgrown it.
42 more days to go until Thursday, August 30 when the SEC kicks off with South Carolina at Vanderbilt.
Follow Russ for SEC and CFB analysis @russmitchellcfb