Somewhere, in the bowels of Williams-Brice Stadium, Steve Spurrier has been preparing; readying himself for the moment when he steps from the humidity of the Southern summer into the air conditioning of a dimly lit hotel conference room. This moment does not involve a team or a playbook. It does not derive itself from anything resembling the game of football. The coach needs only a live microphone and a captive audience.
Spurrier has been hitting the gym – today was arm day – and he’s been working on what comes naturally: Giving a speech. His verbal jabs encapsulate everything from commenting on paying players to tweaking Nick Saban, the NCAA and Dabo Swinney, as respectively as he can. It remains uncertain whether his derisory speech-giving is a concerted effort or a loving aloofness. Either way, this moment is cherished by every member of the media.
Of course, the only event provides the Head Ball Coach with this golden opportunity is SEC Media Days, and he’s scheduled to appear on the second day of the now four-day circus.
The circus that devours the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. is the peak of the post-National Signing Day college football offseason: An event that doesn’t actually provide insight on much of anything, but holds the attention of the college footballing world for a brief moment in time. The 1,000-plus credentialed media members descend on the Birmingham suburb to hear 14 coaches and 42 players say mostly pre-prepared responses. Les Miles doesn’t know how the season will go any better than any media member, but that doesn’t stop us from analyzing every response from every speaker because any semblance of college football is better than no talk of the sport.
Adept media companies are good at many things, one of which is making something that shouldn’t matter into a must-see event like the NFL Combine or the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, and the SEC is no different. The Media Days have become a television event with the usual press conferences, but as the circus grows, so do the list of extra activities. Other important events are on the agenda this year include unveiling the new College Football Playoff College Football Championship Trophy – which I assume is just a wooden plaque with “TROPHY” written on it by Archie Manning – and most likely announcing new carriers for the SEC Network.
SEC Commissioner and godfather of college football Mike Slive opens the ceremonies Monday morning, with Saban, his Alabama players and legions of local fans closing it out on Thursday afternoon. No one surpasses the entertainment value of Spurrier, but Arkansas coach and leg tattoo enthusiast Bret Bielema is always an interesting character study, and it should be exciting to see the hot-seated Will Muschamp give his address to the media while trying to eavesdrop on Gus Malzahn talking about how offense works.
While the coaches are a constant point of interest at the Days, last year was a zenith of player interest. Jadeveon Clowney was a phenomenon after “the Hit,” and Johnny Manziel was, well, Johnny Manziel. This time, the Texas A&M quarterback was answering questions about his dehydrated oversleeping at the Manning Passing Academy, still months away from his NFL career, the rolled up dollar bill and Swan Lake. With Clowney, Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Connor Shaw, C.J. Mosley and other stars all departed to greener pastures, the players participating in this year’s Media Days are more of the up-and-coming variety.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is sitting this one out due to his recent legal discrepancies, but even if he was in attendance, there remains a lack of star power. (Texas A&M is bringing a punter.) But that won’t stop the spectacle from pushing forward, growing more popular and more crowded every year. Landon Collins, Todd Gurley, Bo Wallace, Amari Cooper and Deshazor Everett can become the household names of the players that preceded them, talking ball to the amassed media horde and the dozens watching on television.
A phantasmagoria of college football is upon us and it takes place in a recently renovated hotel attached to a shopping mall. The 2014 college football season is coming soon enough, and the downhill slide starts with SEC Media Days.