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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Newcomers greeted to SEC by absurdity

COLUMN: HOOVER, Ala. — For years, the dirty little secret of Southeastern Conference Media Days has been that for all its pomp, circumstance and record-breaking attendance, there’s not much in the way of real news that comes out of this event.

On Tuesday’s first day of the 2012 installment, the situation turned worse, as league newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M spent the day being pelted with one asinine question after another about the “toughness” of the SEC.

Kevin Sumlin, the first-year Aggies head coach, spent his debut on the main hall podium at the Wynfrey Hotel answering the same question over and over from reporters representing the 12 existing members: You scared? Case in point, when he was asked to “assess” the level of play of the defenses in the SEC West going against the offense he developed success with first as an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, and then with the Cougars:

“What’s my assessment? It’s a pretty damn hard league. How is that? That’s my assessment,” he said with forced laughter.

Certainly there’s no argument that the SEC is at the top of the college football mountain, but Tuesday bordered on the absurd. Pinkel was asked the following: Do you think that the Missouri family has a little bit of a chip on their shoulders because they’ve been told over and over that you’ve been playing JV football and now you’re going to the big league?

“JV Football?” From a conference where the Tigers beat programs like Oklahoma and Texas during Pinkel’s 12 years as head coach? This is the kind of rhetoric you’d expect from anonymous online message board, but surely not the professional working media, right? Right?

Buying in
On a day when SEC Commissioner Mike Slive began the proceedings with a self-congratulatory address teasing the new SEC Network, casually mentioning that the league has tripled its revenue during his time on the job and casually quoting Winston Churchill and Shakespeare, a good chunk of the assembled media bought into the celebration of self.

If anything, the kind of punches from a media corps covering the biggest, most powerful conference in college sports you would expect were pulled: In the main ballroom, no one asked Sumlin about the arrest of quarterback Johnny Manziel, no one pressed Pinkel on his DUI in Colombia, Mo., during the 2011 season, and no one pressed Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin about his questionable comments during the offseason about hiring assistant coaches based on the attractiveness of their wives.

That’s because as the event grows and grows, the format of Media Days becomes inherently flawed. The real working media has no interest in asking a well-thought or incisive question in front of 500 other reporters who can (and do) happily grab the subsequent quote from a player or coach.

Where’s good to eat?
That, and the league’s generous credentialing policy enabling less-than-professional types into the ballroom, created such hard-hitting inquiries as when Pinkel was asked by a radio reporter from South Carolina where “the good places to eat in Columbia, Mo., are.” His gracious but terse response was to call the chamber of commerce.

Credit Mizzou wide receiver T.J. Moe, who after being pelted with questions implying the Tigers’ certain doom upon joining the Southeastern Conference, fired back with a barb of his own:

“They (the SEC) also have prettier girls, the air is fresher, the toilet paper is thicker.” (July 18, 2012, Page 7)

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