HOOVER, ALA. - There's a reason more than a thousand loosely-defined journalists stagger around an Alabama hotel for four days in the middle of July, and it has nothing to do with pride or tradition or fans in the lobby.
The Southeastern Conference picks the earliest date possible for its annual Media Days event, in order to set the agenda for the college athletic calendar, keynoted by Commissioner Mike Slive's state of the league address. As the SEC has swelled in power, so too has the confidence of Slive's annual speech.
It's filled with commentary on national events delivered to a circus crowd that other major conference commissioners and officials spend the next month responding to, which is exactly how the SEC wants it. Last year, Slive's comments on the NCAA were more or less repeated by every other power commissioner.
Slive's comments almost always constitute the bulk of actual news that comes out of the entire event, so here's a breakdown of what to expect from this year's opening address:
1. Boilerplate accounting.
It's still "SCOREBOARD Y'ALL," despite losing last year's BCS title (and having the conference's haughty media guide cover tradition ruined).
Slive will paint the league as well-rounded, to help market the launch of the year-round SEC Network, mentioning national championships in women's softball (Florida) and men's baseball (Vanderbilt) as well as a hearty reminder that Kentucky was the men's basketball runner-up. SEC basketball's anemic national presence has been a public sore spot for Slive the last few seasons, so expect another round of announcements about internal evaluations of out-of-conference scheduling that actually mean nothing.
2. An earnest defense of the conference schedule.
The addition of Texas A&M and Missouri threw conference scheduling into acrimony for the last two seasons. Meanwhile, radical realignment helped spur other major conferences to adopt stronger nine-game league schedules.
The SEC finally settled on maintaining its status quo at its spring meetings, holding fast with an eight-game schedule and a 6-1-1 division format built solely to protect the Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee rivalries (just ask any LSU fan).
Slive will now have to stand behind a division scheduling format that creates disparity in strength and keeps certain teams apart for years at a time while also addressing national criticism that the league schedules softly to ensure national title berths. The 6-1-1 will be propped up by lip service about the "storied tradition" of "classic rivalries," but Slive could take a chance to needle the Big Ten by referencing the league's average strength of schedule and its new out-of-conference scheduling policy.
3. As much distance as possible from the NCAA.
The hallmark of Slive's 2013 address was a dressing down of the size, efficiency and even the existential purpose of the NCAA -- and that was before the organization's colossal PR implosion at the O'Bannon trial.
It's safe to assume that Slive's disdain for the governing body is rooted in the juxtaposed paths of the SEC and NCAA: while the preeminent college sports league has seen unprecedented success, the association that by its existence defines college athletics has suffered a series of gaffes that, pending the O'Bannon decision, could be fatal.
The problem for Slive is that he has to rally around the NCAA's feeble defense of amateurism, at least for a little while longer ...
4. Covert threats of secession.
SEC Media Day
This is the new College Football Playoff trophy
The first year of the Playoff includes some new hardware.
SEC Media Day
... but don't doubt Slive's tact. He's not likely to call for outright NCAA secession by the SEC, but he'll use recent headlines to create support for a separate Division I classification for the "Power 5" conferences.
Slive and other major conference commissioners have been vocal about reviewing and increasing player stipends to reflect the true cost of attendance. This has been an advantageous move for Slive. It's a progressive stance embraced by outside critics of college athletics, but more importantly it's a theory that might only be fiscally possible for the few. That idea allows Slive and his allies to continue framing a media narrative that all Division I programs aren't equal in their ability to take care of student-athletes and should therefore be divided and governed differently.
Expect Slive to chide the NCAA and beat the drum around true cost of attendance even harder today, but make no mistake; the SEC and other major conferences don't want the current framework of amateurism to crumble. The conferences that have the money to increase marginal compensation for players are more than willing to do so in order to keep the current system in place, because the current system yields them billions.
5. Network Network Network Network Network
Don't kid yourself: This charade isn't four days long because of 14 coaches and 52 players. The certified football parts are only about 5 percent of the overall Media Days foodstuff. The rest is hydrogenated ESPN filler.
Slive will probably make more announcements about specific programming for the August launch of the SEC Network, and if he doesn't, there are plenty of specific SECN events tacked onto the schedule that probably will. And with most of the nation's major television carriers still not on board, it wouldn't be shocking if Slive announced the addition of another major carrier (read: Comcast). It will be the most SEC manner possible in which to do that, and that's what this event is really for.
As is Slive's habit, he will also quote at least three figures from history and literature.