Former Florida and South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier calls it “the talkin’ season.” That time in the summer when college basketball and baseball are history and football is lurking on the horizon. The players are going through mostly conditioning workouts with coaches supervising a few X’s and O’s-type practices. Fans don’t see this and neither does the media. An occasional big shot booster will work his way in or hear something from the coaches. What he sees or hears makes its way onto Twitter, Facebook or messages boards in the form of, Here’s what I know about the team this summer.
Regardless, this time of the year is about talk, talk and more talk. Desperate for content, reporters come up with lists. The five coaches mostly likely to be fired in the SEC. Ten newcomers with a chance to make an immediate impact. The top five non conference games on opening weekend.
Frankly stuff like this gives me a headache.
Enter SEC Media Days. Each of the 14 SEC football programs send their head coach and three players to the Hyatt Regency Winfrey Hotel in Birmingham for four days of questions and answers in front of around a thousand credentialed media. Not all of those attending on a press pass are legitimate media. These days you can create a website (Billybama.com) and you’ll probably get in.
Three coaches and their players come in on day one. Days two and three feature four sets of coaches and players. The final day goes back to three. There are three basic venues set up on the second floor of the hotel. (1) The so called “big room” which is filled with hundreds of print and internet reporters. (2) The TV room which typically features 40-50 video cameras and maybe eighty reporters. (3) The radio room which contains maybe 20 to 30 media types.
A Hog fan on a message board noted that Chad Morris will follow Nick Saban on Wednesday of next week. “CM will be lucky to have 5 people in the audience,” he posted.
Sorry to disappoint but from personal observation the number of media in each room doesn’t vary a lot from coach to coach. Chad Morris and the three Razorbacks will be facing plenty of reporters during their time on the second floor.
In addition to the three basic interview venues ESPN and the SEC Network have a live broadcast set situated in a large hallway connecting the various rooms. Those coaches and players who don’t make it to the live set are interviewed separately in small rooms occupied by various network reporters.
Some schools, like Arkansas, also rent a room on the floors above where their local media are given access to the coaches and players for approximately 30 minutes.
When it’s all over believe me, you have more stuff than you know what to do with which is good because enterprising reporters can stretch this Q & A material out for three weeks until August Camp begins.
From a personal standpoint what goes on within this media hoard is more interesting that anything I get out of the coaches and players. Without access to actual visual evidence of what’s being talked about, all of it is just words to me. I don’t want to hear Chad Morris talk about Nick Starkel. I want to see Starkel throwing the football. Watch how he interacts with the other offensive players. Try to get a sense of how much he knows about the offense.
That’s not happening. Not in mid July. So I find myself watching what goes on when Gus Malzahn moves from the big room to the TV room. Or Ed Orgeron going from the TV room to the radio room. Dozens of cameraman follow their every step much like what you would see when a defendant in a murder trial enters or exits a courtroom building.
There’s lots of pushing and swearing. Guys holding heavy cameras walking backwards into support pillars or tripping over the feet of other photographers. The coaches mostly ignore this comedy, trying to look professional for the cameras. Players, who are experiencing it for the first time, often end up laughing.
So do I.
There is another visual treat that takes place in that large second floor hallway and it is nothing short of amazing in my opinion. A set of escalators leads to and from the first floor lobby of the hotel. On the day that Saban is scheduled to appear Alabama fans flood the lobby. Standing behind a webbed rope they peer upward hoping to get a brief look at the current God of Crimson Tide football.
I’ve actually stepped it off after the fact and as Saban moves by the escalators on his way to his next destination he is visible to those on the first floor for maybe three seconds. And yet they never miss him. Each time he briefly appears a roar erupts from the lobby. There’s no other explanation for this. Those fans stand patiently looking upward for ten or fifteen minutes at a time until they get what they want. They then start the process all over again. It’s a study in total concentration or total insanity depending or your point of view.
What makes this phenomenon even more bizarre is the fact that after he’s done upstairs Saban comes down to the lobby where he does radio interviews in front of those same fans. Why cramp your neck muscles for the better part of an hour to get a brief look at the man when a bit later you can watch him for a good fifteen minutes and get his autograph after that?
I’m not trying to bash SEC Media Days. It serves a useful purpose. But to me the best thing about it is that it means we are six weeks away from the real thing. Actual games.
The end of talkin’ season.