After two and half days of cold conference rooms and non-stop football talk, I’ve finally returned from SEC Media Days. I feel like I’ve already written a novel about the event (half of which you all probably skimmed), but for the sake of all the loose ends dangling around in my mind, here’s one final wrap-up to put it to bed.
Here are the eight issues that stuck with me once I left the Hyatt Regency…
1. The cost of attendance stipend is a major issue
…Mostly because no one really seems to fully understand it. To catch you up, starting this season, student athletes will receive a cost of attendance stipend to give them some pocket change to go visit their families, have extra money for food, etc. etc. The stipend varies per school. Kentucky’s is $2,284, the lowest in the SEC. As you might imagine, a recruit could look at the varying amounts per school and decide Kentucky may not be the best option if money was a factor.
Because of that discrepancy, the method in which that figure is determined came under fire this week at Media Days. Right now, it’s determined by each school’s financial aid figures, which are based on federal guidelines from the US Department of Education. Stoops was asked about it and had a pretty diplomatic, “my hands are tied” answer:
“Not real clear on where the numbers come from other than I know they don’t come from the athletic department. So it’s an administrative decision. It is what it is. We’ll play under the rules that they give us. Again, I’m glad, like most coaches will tell you, that we’re giving them something.”
Hopefully as the first year of the stipends goes on, the NCAA can come up with a better way to determine the amount each school gets. They probably won’t, but fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a major issue in recruiting…yet.
2. The SEC Network has changed how the media is covering the event
Normally, KSR is criticized by other local media because we don’t cover enough events in person. This year, it was kind of the other way around. I didn’t go down to Hoover until Tuesday morning, but when I got there, Lonny Demaree and WKYT were the only UK media outlets there. The local media contingent came down for UK’s rounds on Wednesday then went home. This doesn’t bother me at all–if it did, I’d be one hell of a hypocrite–but, I think it speaks to how much access and coverage the SEC Network provides. There were at least three programs covering Media Days for the Network, and one anchor desk inside the main room. Each coach’s speech was televised live and those watching at home got even more coverage of the coaches and players at the desk with Finebaum or the other anchors. Add in all the free transcripts you could dream of on the SEC’s website and that makes covering it from the couch look pretty appealing; however, as I’m always reminded when I cover events in person, there is something nice about being able to interact with the players and get the “feel” of an event. In this case, that “feel” was utter chaos.
3. The “Beyond the Field” feature was great
On that same note, my favorite part of Media Days this year was the “Beyond the Field” initiative, which featured a player from each school whose story off the field is as inspiring as their performance on it. I’ve already profiled Melvin Lewis in depth for you all, but it was fascinating to learn about the Beyond the Field representatives from each school. Georgia’s Malcom Mitchell told us about the children’s book he wrote after drawing inspiration from a book club he attended made up of mostly older women; LSU’s Leonard Fournette talked about living on a bridge with his family for five days after Hurricane Katrina; and Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs talked about his passion for aerospace engineering. I’m a sucker for these sorts of stories and hearing them at Media Days gave the event a refreshing new angle. You can only hear so much coach speak, after all.
4. I really wish UK had brought Patrick Towles
Look, I get it. Stoops is using the “quarterback competition” as motivation to keep both Patrick Towles and Drew Barker on their toes heading into fall camp. It’s an age-old tactic, but no matter how many times Jordan Swindle insisted the competition was legit, I’m not buying it. Towles is on the cover of the Cats Pause Yearbook in Harry Potter gear for goodness sake. Swindle, AJ Stamps, and Melvin Lewis were excellent ambassadors for the program–articulate, informed, and enthusiastic–but it would have been great to see Towles come in as a leader of the team and sell the program to the naysayers. Because there are still a LOT of naysayers.
5. Other SEC media are still copying and pasting old Kentucky Media Days articles
Yesterday, Freddie Maggard sent me a link to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Seth Emerson entitled “The idle interest in Kentucky football.” I don’t know Seth personally, I follow him on Twitter and think he’s pretty entertaining, but this article really bothered me. I won’t link it as to not give him hits, but you can find it easily on your own. Emerson basically pitied the three UK players at Media Days because he feels UK fans don’t care anything about football, nor do the media at the event.
The latter is partially true, but once again, Kentucky had the unfortunate draw of following Alabama, an impossible situation for any school in the league. Everything pales in comparison to Saban at Media Days; however, Stoops actually had one of the longer media sessions if you (very unscientifically) judge by transcript length. I can’t find the duration of each speech, but I know for certain Stoops was in there longer than Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Georgia’s Mark Richt. Emerson used attendance numbers to argue UK fans don’t care about football as much as other schools in the league, and well, numbers are hard to refute, but the interest in football has spiked considerably since Stoops took over. Just look at the interest in recruiting. Did we even care about Signing Day during Joker’s tenure?
The main thing that bothered me about Emerson’s article is it’s the same tired narrative that UK football’s constantly fighting against. Instead of writing something original and interesting about Stoops’ effort to turn the program around, Melvin Lewis’ story, or the high performance program stats that had everyone talking yesterday, he chose to take the lazy route and recycle a column from last year.
6. Dan Mullen and Bret Bielema are trying to be the cool new guys
Mississippi State’s head coach and Arkansas’ head coach seem to be battling for the title of “coolest new guy on the block.” (Even if Mullen’s been in the league since 2009.) It doesn’t hurt that they look alike, both wore flashy shoes–Mullen adidas and Bielema Nike–and both entertained the hell out of reporters during their sessions. I like both Mullen and Bielema–probably Bielema more, he’s hilarious–but seeing their attempts to “swag it up” was slightly cringeworthy; however, I love the effort.
7. Spurrier and Miles are still the best
Try as they may, neither Mullen nor Bielema can take the SEC Media Days throne from Steve Spurrier. Les Miles is a close second. Both Spurrier and Miles seemed amused but unthreatened by their younger counterparts, Miles telling reporters he’s just “wearing normal socks and shoes” compared to their flashy kicks. Seeing the two coaches talk is always a highlight of Media Days because they really don’t give an eff about what people think; as of right now, it feels like Mullen and Bielema care a little too much.
8. I swear I wasn’t the media member that gave Kentucky a first-place vote
When the media ballots were released this morning, I actually laughed out loud when I saw one media member voted UK to finish first in the SEC East. The news rippled around the main room, and I turned to Lonny, one of my few media friends, and asked him if he was the one who voted for UK. He gave me the strangest look and said “Aww, no. Why would I do that?”. I love my Cats, but good question.
Unless I woke up in the middle of the night and got on my computer while sleepwalking, I can say with certainty that I was NOT the media member who gave the Cats the number one vote, simply because I forgot to fill out the ballot. Whoops.
I’m sure everyone thinks I did it, though. I kind of wish I had.