For years, I have wanted to go to Southeastern Conference Media Days, and every year it seemed as if something came up that prevented me from doing that. Finally this year, I caught a break and actually had a free day, and so on Thursday I went to the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, to attend the event.
Now that I’ve attended a session, the best way to sum up SEC Media Days is this: they’re equal parts cool and ridiculous.
Let’s start with the ridiculous first. For starters, the amount of media there is incredible — several hundred writers, radio and TV personalities, and even a few ex-athletes in attendance who are stumping for media jobs. If you walked in from a foreign country and saw the media crush at the event, you’d think they were there to cover a presidential election or a massive disaster of some sort. But no, we’re only there to cover 18-to-23-year-olds who play a game.
And when the questions begin, it’s amazing as to how little actual on-field action is discussed. I was there for Vanderbilt coach James Franklin’s appearance yesterday, and at least 10 minutes passed before the name of a single player on his team was mentioned by either side. I saw most of Alabama coach Nick Saban’s session, which largely went the same way. A lot of people are there looking to stir the pot on a current controversy, or hope a player or coach into saying something that makes for a headline. I don’t think that necessarily reflects well on our profession.
Then, there’s the fan part. There were literally hundreds of them gathered in the lobby, mostly Alabama fans, waited in the lobby for hours at a time, donning their school’s colors, shouting their school’s slogans, and hoping for whatever table scraps were available. Might there be a glimpse of coach Nick Saban? Or perhaps an autograph from a player not half their age? One LSU fan somehow got past the roped-off area into the media section, and politely asked if I might secure him an LSU media guide. I had to explain to him that I was sorry, but I’d probably get my credential revoked for doing so.
So, the whole thing was quite a spectacle. As I texted a friend who’d been there before, it would have made for a perfect South Park episode.
At the same time, who am I kidding? A bunch of people would have loved to have been in my shoes, not the least of which is me.
First, you get unprecedented access to players and coaches. Covering the Vanderbilt beat, I can most of the time get what I need on the Vanderbilt end if I’m persistent enough, but getting something from Georgia, LSU or Alabama might be difficult — except for yesterday. From a media standpoint, I didn’t need a lot in that regard, but it was fun to see players and coaches whom I’ve watched from afar up close and see their personalities.
Second, it’s fun to be around other media members as well. I’ve got a lot of friends who cover other beats whom I might see once or twice a year. It’s good to catch up with those folks when I have a minute. And while it’s not set up as a networking event, it’s always good for that, also.
Finally, these are the days where I realize I’m living a dream. Honestly, as I looked into the lobby at the fans with amusement, bewilderment, and — if I’m being completely honest, a small sense of contempt for adults who seemed to have their priorities out of order — I also felt a connection with even the most fanatical of them. Sportswriters can be cynical people, but I don’t know of any who don’t love sports, and that’s a common bond we have with those same fans.
Among those fans, there were a lot of people there for whom this provides an escape from reality from a job they hate, but may have little choice over leaving. For me, it helps me realize how fortunate I am that this how I pay the bills.