The Evolution of SEC Football Media Days
SEC Football Media Days was set to begin on Monday, July 13 in Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame and Omni Hotel, surrounded by SEC-branded billboards, street signs and fans that turned the area around downtown Centennial Olympic Park into a weeklong celebration of the return of SEC Football.
While the current national health crisis made it impractical to hold this year's in-person gathering, the void left around the college football landscape and media this week is as obvious as the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The CFP National Championship Game is the only event in college football that draws more media and exposure than SEC Media Days.
Former Georgia great David Greene famously stated after participating in Super Bowl Media Day as a player with the Seattle Seahawks: "It was big, but it wasn't as big as I thought it would be because I've been to SEC Media Days. I thought the SEC Media Days had more people, which is kind of odd."
The first SEC Media Days was held in 1985, a transition from the Skywriters Tour held since 1965 where around 40 media members would fly to each of the then 10 SEC schools for their preseason media opportunity. The transition to a single-site event which brought all the coaches and media together was made after the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles resulted in the canceling of the SEC Skywriters with too few media members being able to participate in the SEC event.
That first event in 1985 drew less than 100 media to the Holiday Inn Medical Center in Birmingham. It wasn't until 2004 that SEC Media Days drew 500 attendees for the first time. That's around the time that things started to change, and boy did they ever.
The SEC won an incredible seven straight national championships from 2006-2012. The 2006 version of SEC Media Days drew less than 700 media - the 2013 version of the event drew nearly 1,300.
There were many other factors during that time period that led to the explosion of SEC Media Days into the cultural phenomenon that it has become, outside of the seven straight national championships that saw the league explode from a regional to a national entity.
A major shift in the media landscape to a more digital element played a key role, as did the advent of social media into the everyday fabric of America and journalism.
You also had dynamic, Heisman Trophy-winning players such as Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel, who to this day have the most anticipated and attended SEC Media Days single appearances in history. The latter of course was made possible by the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC in 2013, another factor into the growth of the event.
ESPN began wall-to-wall live coverage of the event in the late 2000s on various platforms such as SportsCenter, EPSNU and College Football Live on site, which of course would continue on an elevated scale with the launch of the SEC Network in 2014.
The SEC Network provided 45 hours of live coverage from the event in 2019. While social media channels so far this week have been full of journalists reveling in memorable moments and stories from SEC Media Days past - which I could devote an entirely separate article to - we pause this week and reflect on how the event has evolved through the years, and look forward to being able continue with new memorable moments in downtown Nashville, Tenn., in 2021.
Chuck Dunlap is a 20-year veteran of the SEC and currently serves as the Director of Communications for SEC Football. Follow him on Twitter at @SEC_Chuck