Arrival of football media days means end (thankfully) of silly off-season stories

Written by: Wendell Barnhouse

Twitter: @WBBBPB

Welcome, dear and new readers. Your Veteran Scribe is honored to be offering his words here at Wingspan Sports. If you’re 45 years or younger, YVS has been doing this since before you were born. YVS believes age is just a number and that number doesn’t equal ability or productivity.

However, occasionally there will be some “get off my lawn” moments (without the gravelly growl and the M-1). This debut will be one of those times.

Two weeks of conference media days started this week in Frisco, Texas (Big 12) and Atlanta (SEC). These events are mostly brand promotions where conferences parade coaches and select players before reporters to answer questions (oftentimes stupid) that are answered with (almost always) dull clichés.

That the Big 12 and the SEC are vying for attention at the same time (the Big 12 is Monday and Tuesday while the SEC runs Monday-Thursday) is a bit ironic. Those two leagues, despite bonding with a Sugar Bowl payday each post-season, have been sniping at each other for the last few years.

Media days signal the unofficial start of each season. And the hunger and the thirst for football-centric news has created an off-season where stories can turn from molehills turn to Mt. Everest. The current media landscape of website and social outlets is a click-hungry beast that demands constant feeding with new and compelling content. No news is bad news, hence any crumb that contains a milligram of interest becomes a click-bait story.

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who has been on the job just over a year, produced the Sooners’ third-consecutive Big 12 title, a spot in the College Football Playoff and a Heisman Trophy winner in his first season. Now he’s discovered that spending his off-season in a Pacific island cave is a viable strategy.

During an appearance on Sirius XM’s ESPNU radio a few weeks ago, Riley was asked about the tired perception that the Big 12 Conference doesn’t play defense. Specifically, the question involved if measuring Big 12 defenses was difficult based on the league having so many potent offensive players and schemes. Here, in the interest of full disclosure, is Riley’s answer:

“It’s hard to quantify because what’s different here is you’re facing those offenses every single week. You just don’t have that in any other league. It’s not that you don’t have good offenses in other leagues – of course you do. You just don’t have the consistency and the challenge that you do week in and week out in this league. The Rose Bowl is a perfect example. Nobody all year could move the ball on Georgia and we had a pretty nice run in that game offensively. A lot of people had trouble moving the ball against Ohio State last year. You’ve seen that a lot in non-conference games. In these matchups, all of a sudden, a lot of these really good defenses that everybody thinks are this or that are giving up a lot of points to these Big 12 teams. It’s a challenge. We did have some excellent defenses in this league last year – Iowa State, TCU are some of the top-ranked defenses, no doubt. But you go through Georgia’s defense, which was a top-five ranked defense going into the Rose Bowl, you go throw them in the Big 12 every year, they’re not going to be a top five defense. It’s just probably not going to happen. The challenges that you face – it’s definitely a little bit different.”

Here are some of the headlines for stories generated by Riley’s comments:

  • Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley takes swipe at Georgia defense – USA Today.
  • What Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley Got Wrong With His Potshot At Georgia’s Defense And The SEC – Forbes.
  • Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley says there’s ‘no way’ Georgia would be a top-5 defense nationally if it played in Big 12 – Dallas Morning News.
  • Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley: ‘No way’ Georgia has top-five defense in Big 12 – The Sporting News.
  • Oklahoma HC Lincoln Riley: ‘No Way’ Georgia Is a Top-5 Defense in the Big 12 – Bleacher Report.

There can be a reasonable debate regarding whether Riley took a “swipe” or a “potshot” at Georgia’s defense. But if you read those 221 words, you will not find the two words used in three of the above headlines. That’s because “no way” came from this Tweet:

The question asked of Riley came from Danny Kannel, who frequently takes swipes and potshots at the SEC. His question was reasonable as was the answer one would expect from a Big 12 coach defending his conference’s reputation. Kannel fired up the click bait news cycle with an inciteful – not insightful – Tweet.

Crying “out of context” is often the default defense for someone caught in a media maelstrom. But just over a year on the job at a Cadillac program, Riley now understands how what you say can be twisted and what you mean can be obscured by the twisting.

When members of the media clamor for more access and wonders why media relations directors are circumspect or wonder why coaches and players (who are often counseled) respond with rote clichés, we need to also ask: “Why in the world would they want to talk to us at all?”

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