Media Days Rewind: And It All Begins Again

They came, they saw, they asked a lot of questions.

Good news football fans: it’s officially the preseason to the preseason. But before we completely put SEC Media Days in the rearview — and after a weekend to let the dust settle and the information digest — it’s time to take a look back at the Birmingham media blitzkrieg and offer up some thoughts on the more interesting notes from the three-day news conference extravaganza.

Of course, credit for the news and quotes goes out to the reporters and media types who, you know, were actually there.

— Commissioner Mike Slive started Media Days with a bang on Wednesday when he introduced a set of his personal proposals of change in the NCAA, or as he called it, a “national agenda for change.” At first, it’s kind of hard to tell what the four-point plan he presented actually is. For one, he introduced it to the media in a crowded press room instead of to the NCAA in, say, an open letter, and if he really wanted the changes enacted you’d think he’d be pushing to make it official in his conference. But dig into and you’ll find that he’s calling for some serious changes and reform.

One of the issues touched on has been one of the more discussed and heated debates of the past few months: giving student-athletes more for their work. Slive proposed “raising” scholarships to cover “the full cost of attendance.” I’m all on board for that as long as it covers all student-athletes in all sports. But I’m not sure how most D1 schools, including the low-end FBS schools and virtually all FCS schools, will be able to swing it when their athletic departments are bringing in minimal profits. Of course, everyone would be able to afford it if so much money wasn’t funneled into the salaries of BCS executives.

Slive also proposed raising the minimum required high school GPA from 2.0 to 2.5, and suggested extending academic progress monitoring back to high school. Of course, a year-by-year progress review would mean more NCAA hypocrisy. Regular students can simply apply to a university with their post-graduate transcripts… and doesn’t every rule in the NCAA bylaw rulebook demand that student-athletes get treated like regular students? Raising the GPA requirement was also an unpopular idea, and, as Bobby Petrino pointed out, there’s only a 1.8 GPA required to stay in school once you’re there.

But by far the most unpopular of Slive’s ideas amongst the coaches was the proposal that scholarships would be multi-year agreements.  (Coaches have multi-year contracts, don’t they?)

— Once again, trouble brewing in the Big 12 has led to SEC expansion talk, and it was ever-present at Media Days. My personal stance on expansion is as it always has been: 12 is the magic number. In my book, the conference can add and detract teams as much as it wants as long as it keeps an even number of 12 schools. The 14-school “super conference” would entail an extra divisional game in football, meaning one less inter-divisional game, leaving just one outside the traditional rival. Playing Florida on the gridiron once every twelve-odd years? No thanks.

— Auburn was the center of attention on Thursday. Making appearances: Gene Chizik, Philip Lutzenkirchen, Emory Blake, and Nosa Eguae.

Chizik’s turn at the podium was full of the same questions—and the same answers—we’ve heard a million times. There wasn’t a classic “Period. End of Story” or “Pure Garbage” moment, but Chizik’s stance was just as strong as ever. (Les Miles, on the other hand, when asked about the NCAA sniffing around Baton Rouge, held a firm “No Comment” policy. Someone’s been taking notes.) However, there was a lot of fresh Auburn news.

While the NCAA denied Auburn’s appeal to let Mike Blakely play immediately after transferring (as per his own post on Twitter), Chizik said that “the process is still in play,” so it may not be a done deal just yet. Chizik also confirmed that Eric Smith’s dismissal earlier this offseason was permanent, which unlike some (most?), I find very unfortunate. I can attest that Smith is a stand-up guy, and I thought it was a shame when he was dismissed, especially when that first strike, you know, kind of turned out to not be that much of a strike after all. Regardless, I’m sure we all hope he finishes school without problems.

There were also plenty of great quotes from the Auburn representatives in tow. Lutzenkirchen described Kiehl Frazier as “a miniature Cam Newton” with a “rocket for an arm.” When Nosa Eguae was asked about the best backs in the conference, he surprisingly brought up Onterio McCalebb, noting his work between the tackles this spring. And Emory Blake said of Gus Malzahn’s system, “We know the gameplan so well that we know what he’s going to call before he even calls it.”

Also, Auburn was picked to finish fifth in the West this season by the media. I’d say that this year’s media picks make about as much sense as last year’s.

— Some final notes and thoughts:

ESPN announced a new project that will produce one-hour “30 for 30″-style documentaries based on stories from the SEC that will produce four shows a year to air on ESPNU. The idea is certainly interesting, but the limitations (one hour, a sister channel, stories spread out between all sports and all schools instead of just the most interesting subjects) makes me fear that it could easily fall into becoming one of those drab one-hour shows on FSN or CSS highlighting ‘item X’ — i.e., the exact thing that “30 for 30″ set itself apart from. It’d be a real shame if this series held a monopoly on SEC stories, preventing an experienced filmmaker from choosing a story he’s interested in for a big budget two-hour “30 for 30″.

I can’t finish without mentioning Arkansas having to change their hand signals after Ryan Mallett gave them away on Jon Gruden’s QB Camp. Bobby Petrino said, “I wasn’t really happy with him… He called me up to apologize.” And they said Cam was the stupid one for ’36′?

Speaking of Cam, the NFL lockout ended yesterday, which is great news for him (and all former Tigers). Some bad news for Cam: Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement he’s expected to be offered around $22 million over his first four seasons, just a year after Sam Bradford made $78 million over six years, and $50 million guaranteed the moment he signed the contract. Don’t expect Cam and the Panthers to be settled for quite some time. The new CBA has a brand new rookie wage scale implemented, but it allows for wiggle room. Instead of the rigid scale the NBA has, the new NFL CBA gives each team an aggregate amount of money to spend on its drafted rookies. The Panthers are going to have to offer Cam a pretty big piece of the pie, or he can just threaten to holdout and sit the season. (He’s already missed all summer due to the lockout, right?) It might take a while, especially with no precedent for negotiations under the new CBA, but Cam will sign — it will just end up being for more than $22 million.

- Lastly, Media Days also brought news that both Georgia and LSU will unfortunately be wearing Nike Pro Combat costumes this upcoming season. Georgia will be wearing theirs in the season opener against Boise State. The uniform switcharoo that was once Georgia’s thing, and brought about by the players for fun, is now about money and corporate advertising—representing “Team Nike” instead of just “Georgia.”

LSU’s uniforms are even more noteworthy because they’ll be worn in their game against Auburn. Here’s hoping for our eyes’ sake it’s something, anything better than their last attempt; I don’t think I’ve ever seen two colors clash so awfully like puke-ish brown/bronze and purple. Perhaps they’ll go with white helmets like they did in 1997.

It actually looked pretty good when they did it again in 2007 for Katrina relief. The only thing I didn’t like? Only one single dollar from each jersey sold went to Katrina relief efforts, instead of, you know, every freaking penny of it.

Guess who made those jerseys? Nike.

Photo via.

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