Georgia coach Mark Fox holds a small court during SEC Media Days in Birmingham. (Eric Crawford photo)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WDRB) -- Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Days in a nutshell. University of Kentucky sophomore forward Alex Poythress is sitting with a handful of reporters, and gets this question: "So, if this whole basketball thing doesn't work out, do you think you could be like an NFL tight end?"
Huddle up. UK's media day on campus Tuesday had twice the turnout of media listening to Wildcats coach John Calipari as the SEC media event in Birmingham on Wednesday, which roughly corresponds to how much more UK cares about basketball than the rest of the conference.
SEC Football Media Days are the college equivalent of Super Bowl pregame hype. More than 1,200 media credentials issued. Wall-to-wall coverage on ESPN, including on-site originating broadcasts of College Football Live.
Basketball media day? As I write this, there are 18 other writers also working in the media room, all tortured by a Muzak version of "Loves Me Like a Rock" through ceiling speakers that no one seems able to turn off.
Jerry Tipton, the Hall of Fame sportswriter from the Lexington Herald-Leader, sat down behind a table to rest and soon had a crowd as big as Georgia coach Mark Fox had. He reported via his Twitter account (@JerryTipton) that the credential count football-to-basketball was 1,239 to 78.
Now, I'm not unfamiliar with media day experiences that are, shall we say, less than a hot ticket. I was in Newport, R.I., for the first American Athletic Conference media day. Steve Andress from WDRB and I were going to interview some national guys before dinner.
Only one showed up: Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated. I said, "I hate to ask, Pete." He said, "Surely there are other people." Nope. We made the best of it.
But even the AAC, or the American, or whatever it is, even they throw a clam bake. You get some atmosphere. They're trying.
The SEC is the premier conference in college sports. But basketball, God bless them, is not their thing. It's not even the league's fault. Even in basketball crazy Kentucky, with the SEC's media day coming one day after UK's, most of the state's outlets stayed home for a bye-week football news conference rather than drag themselves down to Birmingham.
I can't blame them. I had my reasons for coming down. How many people can say they covered both the AAC football media day and SEC basketball in the same year? That has to be worth something. Right? Anyone?
There's a reason the SEC stuck its basketball tournament in Nashville for nine of the next 12 years. They don't want to mess with it. Just put it there and don't worry about it.
Here's progress. UK coach John Calipari noted, "I think part of the reason they did it was we got knocked out (last season in Nashville) and people still came. I'm not trying to sound like I'm bragging, but I'm saying, for our league, we get knocked out, and it was packed. It was great. It was a great environment."
I say, never underestimate the impact of UK fans with pre-purchased hotel rooms and country music.
There's something endearing about the SEC's apathy toward basketball. Mind you, that doesn't mean it doesn't field some quality teams or produce some great players. The league still has three teams likely to crack the preseason Top 25. UK is at the top of most rankings, Florida is lurking around the Top 10, and most think Tennessee will be worthy of rankings -- though in true SEC fashion, the league won't have UK traveling to Knoxville this year.
And there are programs progressing. With the largesse of media rights deals raining down on them, new facilities are popping up around the league.
So when Kentucky visits, they'll pack them in.
But not on media day. Not for basketball. I understand college football trumps hoops nationally, everywhere. But nowhere is the contrast as stark as in the SEC. In hoops, it has always been Kentucky and everyone else, with a few prominent historical exceptions from time to time.
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