Ed Note: The following appears courtesy Bloguin’s brand-new college sports site The Student Section. TSS will be your hub for football and basketball coverage throughout the year and features an excellent team of writers. In this piece, Matt Zemek sifts through the long, strange trip that is college football media days.

A third of a century ago, in 1981, college football wasn’t televised wall-to-wall on Saturdays. The courts had not yet busted open the television landscape, changing forever the way Americans consumed college football as a product… and the ways in which broadcasters presented the product over the airwaves.  Therefore, while media coverage of college football has regularly been an issue in the sport’s history, the ways in which media coverage is most centrally felt have been altered to a considerable degree.

Preferential treatment toward a conference might not be a brand-new reality in the world of college football. Conferences died, switched names, and transferred exiled teams for much of the 20th century. Yet, the intensity and centrality of this subject is what sets apart the past 20 years from the 1980s and previous decades.

College football fans are more conscious of media dynamics than they were in the past. Part of this reality is rooted in a higher level of media literacy, if only because of the pervasive, incessant flow of content during each week of the year. Part of the present situation has also been shaped by the felt need to be attentive to what’s on television. Until the mid-1980s, televised offerings of college football were so comparatively meager that there weren’t enough debatable decisions to contest in the first place.

The way rankings questions and Heisman Trophy competitions are talked about today is markedly different from the 1980s. (Whether voting patterns have remained the same or not is a different question.) Much has changed over the past 30 years, and this forms the basis for today’s commentary on conference coverage, media-day events, and the college football climate in which we process various issues through the lens of television.


In today’s college football environment, saying anything particularly forceful about the Southeastern Conference — for or against — can lead plenty of fans to identify pundits as being SEC homers or haters. Right or wrong, the SEC has become that much of a lightning rod in contemporary college football discussions. It’s why my colleague Bart Doan’s piece last Thursday on ESPN and the SEC Network generated a robust debate and a lot of activity in my Twitter mentions.

What’s important to understand, though, as Big Ten Media Days conclude today in Chicago — marking the end of every power-conference media-day event — is that one can compliment the SEC and still be critical of the way in which it is covered by ESPN on a national level. What’s just as significant in all this is that one can criticize ESPN for overhyping the SEC and yet point out that non-ESPN networks bear a large share of the responsibility for this “hype gap” (one could also call it a “perception gap”) between the SEC and the other four power conferences.

That last point has been emphatically affirmed by these past two and a half weeks of media-day events, which began with the SEC’s party in Hoover, Ala., on Monday, July 14.


Here’s a summary of media-day coverage from the five power conferences:

1) SEC

SEC Media Days received extended coverage on ESPNU, including the presence of an anchor desk on site in Hoover. This was not part of any other media-day event for ESPN. SEC Media Days also received four days of coverage, not the two days that applied to the other conferences’ media gatherings. On several levels, there’s very little the other conferences can do to compete with SEC Media Days. This and other related points are not being contested.

Let’s sharpen that last statement: This commentary is not seeking to advance the idea that if other television networks covered their media-day events in a better way, the fight for improved conference perception would take a decisive turn. No — that’s not what’s being claimed here. The SEC would still own more advantages.

In summarizing the past few weeks of media-day coverage, the far more important point is not the set of built-in advantages the SEC already owned. What matters is that two conferences with their own house-organ networks did not cover the signature aspect of their own media days in real time. Those two conferences are the Pac-12 and Big Ten. Before getting to them, however, let’s examine two other conferences in connection with media days.

About Matt Zemek

| CFB writer since 2001 |