SEC Media Days will be venturing out of its parents’ basement at age 33, not unusual these days. Whether the first tentative steps out of Birmingham will be successful remains to be seen.
The College Football Hall of Fame is a fine venue and there is no rule that requires the event to be in Birmingham every year. There’s nothing wrong with Atlanta — at least nothing that hasn’t been written 10,000 times before. The criticism — holding the event just 60 miles or so from the Alabama campus turned it into an “Alabama” event, skewing the balloting for preseason rankings or all-conference teams — was often repeated.
It is easier for an Alabama beat writer to get to Hoover than a Florida beat writer, or an Arkansas scribe. Also, because the SEC has traditionally had a generous interpretation of media in its “1,000 media members” publicity, that tilted the voting demographic even more. Disclaimer: I haven’t voted in the mass predictions for a decade or so. Is that a big deal? Probably not, but in that sense, a change of scenery might be refreshing.
I wonder, though, if downtown Atlanta is going to be as fan-friendly as a venue as the Galleria. In Hoover, a wacky fan — and there has never been an SEC Media Days without some national publication or television network doing a feature on “those wacky fans” — could just pull up into the parking lot at Belk (an SEC corporate sponsor tie-in!), put a giant national championship ring on his head or don a historically almost-correct Bear Bryant costume and wander over to the lobby, then head downstairs to the food court when the camera lights switched off.
The only year when I thought the lobby crowd was frenzied rather than sort of contrived was Nick Saban’s first year at Alabama, when the thirst for a glimpse of the new coach closed down an airport and put 100,000 fans into a stadium for an A-Day game, a day that changed intrasquad games around college football forever.
Will there be that sort of “zany” atmosphere at a place where you have to pay $20 to park?
In the actual event, Alabama will still be the focal point, not because of geography. Have the event in Antarctica and the talk will still be predominantly about Alabama (and the media room will also be warmer than the one at the Wynfrey, although that is an insider complaint.) Alabama has been the No. 1 story in college football over the last decade. That won’t change in Atlanta — if anything, the city only enhances the narrative.
I’m not sure if anyone will ask any rival coaches about the specifics of Alabama’s quarterback situation. They might. Saban will be asked and will give the same answer he has given since April: that there is still a competition. The answer isn’t rehearsed. It’s just Saban’s honest opinion and since it is also the only opinion that matters, that’s not going to change for another seven weeks (at least.)
Georgia will get a lot of attention, too. It won’t be possible to determine whether that’s due to location or to the fact the Bulldogs should be a national contender. Probably, it will be some of both.
It all starts Monday with Jimbo Fisher, the fastest-talking interview subject in the game. There will be Ed Orgeron, too. But will there be a guy in a papier-mâché Big Al head awaiting the coaches at the bottom of an escalator? If not, is it really SEC Media Days?
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.