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Pants Optional: Maize n Brew Prepares for Big Ten Media Days

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It's that time of year again. The last week in July where the College Football hype machine turns itself all the way up to 11 and fans ceaselessly troll the interwebz for any kind of news, good or bad, about their team before the first whistle of fall practice sounds. As is the norm, the EESSSS EEEE SSSEEEEEE was faster to the punch, holding their pre-season media kick-off in February (no, not really) with ESPN playing the role of media fluffer and lead videographer.

This week the ACC and Big XII (which is really just ten teams but no one in the their offices can count so it doesn't really matter) held their media kickoffs and were welcomed by a long string of yawns from tired reporters who had been drinking heavily the night before and were pissed that the continental buffet from previous years had been replaced by... well... nothing.  The result of these media "kickoffs" was the same as previous years. FSU, Texas/Oklahoma were picked to win their conferences. Honestly, I think the preseason stories for these conferences haven't changed in ten years. They're basically mad libs at this point.

FSU Quarterback ___________ was a highly rated recruit out of _________, Florida, who threw for 3,800 yards as a senior and 26 touchdowns. Last season for the Seminoles he threw for (500/750/1000) yards, (5/7/9) Touchdowns and (15/20/25/62)interceptions. After a summer working out with quarterback guru (Craig James/Andre Ware/Chris Mortenson/Linda Cohn), he looks like (an adonus/Greek God/the Statue of David/Jared Lorenzen) and is throwing the ball (past the sound barrier/hard enough to shatter diamonds/deep to make up for his lack of touch). Surrounded by standout wide receivers ________, _______, _________ and __________, this season promises to be a breakout year for ___________ under center. In fact, the Seminoles are so loaded on both sides of the ball in 20__, it's hard to come up with reasons they shouldn't go undefeated.

Insert "Jimbo Fisher" where "Bobby Bowden" used to be and you've got your story. Then you can return to the bar. That brings us to the Big Ten Football Media Kick Off.

As you know, this will be Maize n Brew's third year at Big Ten Media days which shocks me more than it should shock you. I am not a journalist. Spelling is not something I'm good at, nor is stringing words together into a coherent sentence. I'm a lawyer with a real bad football problem who spends a good portion of his free time inserting bad jokes into stories about football. It's what I do. Yet for some reason they keep letting me in. Which brings me to you guys, the readers. Without you guys coming back on occasion to correct my grammar or share a link or two, I wouldn't be allowed in the door. So thank you. Sincerely.

Getting back to the point, I wanted to talk with you about what, exactly, Media Days are and how your humble blogger fits in. Media Days are a giant cattle call for sports reporters of all flavors, sizes, and backgrounds. The conference's goal is to cram as many willing reporters into a conference room as possible and get them to write about whatever pre-packaged message they're pushing at the time.

Because media has changed so much over the years, Media Days have as well. Three years ago the conference would lay out 11 beautifully packaged media guides complete with a carrying bag nicely stenciled with the Big 11 Ten logo. These things were massive, each weighing the same as a small Kia and just as cool to be seen with. Flash forward to Thursday and I'll be shocked if I see a single media guide not contained in a flash drive. Next, with the advances in video technology, more and more television, cable and internet sources are capable of live interviews and canned questions for visual consumption. As a result, the conference is two, very controlled days long. One day largely set aside for television/video media and one for the print/interwebz guys.

Let's be clear. The conferences don't skimp on the locations. Except the MWC. They have their meetings at the local Elks lodge in Boise. The Big Ten, they do it well. Usually it's in Chicago at a giant hotel/convention center that's fairly accessible (though now it's at McCormick Place which is as accessible to guests and locals as your spleen). Day One for guys like me is generally for listening to scripted comments, a little bit of hallway banter with the coaches, and the occasional stale bagel that the 8am herd of reporters missed as they scoured the area for sustenance.

It's also the TV and radio media's main day to do one on one "intimate" interviews with the coaches and selected players. And I me intimate in the "We've got five minutes so are we going to do this or what?" kind of sense. It's just like every movie interview you've seen, short, boring, and obviously repeating the same answer to the same question all caught on camera. I'm certain most of these guys find this day more grueling than spring practice. Nothing like having a microphone and/or camera jammed in your face for six hours. Four years ago an Indiana receiver just cracked midway through the day and eventually had to be coaxed down from the Chicago Water Tower*. No one knows what happened to his pants. Only the strong make it out alive.

So, day one is really for the talking type media persons. But the written guys get some time on day one, and that happens during the morning. At around 9 or 10 am on the first day there will be a three hour session where each coach takes the podium to deliver some set remarks and field the occasional question. And because of the number of people looking to see this, it's set up in a room that could hold Sea World. The conference room will be huge, much like your freshman year Psych 101 class, and set up fairly similarly. There will be a podium at the front of the room with the Big Ten logo draped all over the place like tinsel on a Christmas tree, with at least 30 rows of twin 100 foot long collections of tables divided down the middle by a center aisle. Smack in the middle of the rows of tables will be a ten foot high television camera riser with two giant HD cameras and a sound board that would make Dr. Dre envious.

After you find your seat the presentations begin in random order. Northwestern followed by Michigan State followed by Illinois, etc. Each coach gets up there and delivers something boring, answers a question or two and bolts at the first opening. Each coach except Joe Paterno. Joe Pa will go up there, sit down at the dias, adjust his mic and glasses, then tell the assembled media that he doesn't have any remarks prepared so go ahead and ask your questions, you blood sucking vultures. Joe Pa is like a Greek Oracle. You'll ask him one thing and he'll give you an answer to a question you didn't ask, and he'll insist that was what you needed to hear. It is at that point you are so happy you don't have to cover Penn State in any capacity.

Getting back to the coaches under 100, once they finish their remarks, they head off toward a side door and a noticeable herd of reporters will follow them out the same door. Once through the door, the coach will wait there with his media assistant for the swarm of reporters to arrive and form a porcupine like crescent around him, microphones and recorders jabbing at him like spears. Then the questions start flying, one after another with one reporter generally deciding that all of his/her questions are far more important than anyone else's and he/she attempts to control the question period. Sometimes eyes roll, sometimes they don't, but generally the coach will stand out there, back to the wall and surrounded like Custer, for twenty minutes before finally getting sick of it and saying he has some other interviews to get to.

At that point the mob disperses to write their afternoon copy and to attempt to interview some of the famous talking heads floating around Media Days. And they're there. Herbie, Desmond, DiNardo, etc. You watch the female (and some male) reporter drool on Herstriet and watch the male reporters trip over themselves to follow around Charissa Thompson. It's funny and sad all at once. But other than the occasional introduction, your Day One is over.

Where Day One is long, meandering, strange and discombobulated, Day Two is brutally short yet informative. Day Two is where your average newspaper guy and blogger actually gets a chance to meet and talk with the coaches and players from each of the 12 teams. Day Two starts EARLY, usually around 8am. If you're smart, you get there early and claim an outlet in the interview hall. But usually someone else has beaten you there. The interview room is even bigger than the podium room, with at least 48 different tables for the coaches and three players from every Big Ten Team to sit at individually. There's a lot of ground to cover and a lot of people there to ask every question you want to ask, so you've got to move quickly and you've got to be assertive.

The second you see the players enter the room and grab their chair, or the second you see an opening you have to grab it. I remember my first BTMD appearance and remember just how intimidated I was. That's player X. That's Coach Y. Holy crap Joe Paterno is small. No. If you're going to be there, you've got to go right up to the players, say hello and start asking questions.

You've also got to move around. It's easy to get sucked in to a conversation and just listen to what the players and coaches are saying. Know what you're looking for and go on to the next table. Why? Because you've only got two hours to do that. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but trust me, it isn't. Time flies and next thing you know the players and coaches are being call over to the autograph session for the paying customers who are there for the kickoff luncheon. And you're done. Two days are gone and it's time for football.

It's a strange two days. There's so much to cover and so much of it is free form that it's hard to push into a susinct story. It is fun though. But there are rules.

1. No autographs from the coaches/players - No matter how big a fan you are, no matter how much you call yourself a "blogger", if you're there as media you have to behave like media. Sigh. Stupid double edged sword.

2. No eye rolling at the stupid question you just heard - This is the hardest part of Media Days. At some point someone will ask the dumbest question you've ever heard and you have to sit there, mic in hand and pretend like you didn't just hear the stupidest thing ever uttered no matter how much blood is pouring out of your ears. If the person answering the world's stupidest question can smile and answer it, you can pretend it didn't happen.

3. No jokes - This is second hardest thing at Media Days. As a blogger you're kind of prone to making jokes of things as they are presented to you. You hear something, see something, learn of something and your first reaction is to joke about it. You can't. Microphones are everywhere, cameras are everywhere, and so are the athletic department minions. The players have been drilled relentlessly to be charming and boring all at once, any reaction to a joke will show right through them and you'll be able to see the play book, pass/run percentages, and what they had for breakfast. Joking, for better or worse, is verbotten.

4. Pants are optional - No. Not really, but professional attire is. You'll see jeans, shorts, jorts, suits, jeans n' ties, polos, t-shirts, and a lot of bad comb-overs. I miss the old days where you'd see a reporter in a swell fedora with a tweed jacket and tie on its last legs hanging around the reporters booze soaked collar. At least there was the appearance of trying to be professional without the spirit behind it. Now it's polos, khakis and a beer gut with its own gravitational pull. Mark my words: 2013, pants optional.

5. The AD's are everywhere - This isn't just a football party folks. You'll see every AD from every school there. The top end of their Department rotation will be there too to provide you with answers to whatever you can dream up. But Each Athletic Director is there, obviously there, in plain sight without being a central figure in the two day event. It's almost like they're there to make sure this carefully orchestrated play goes off without a hitch. But they're not. They're there to do business and meet on a number of different Big Ten issues. But it just seems like they're always over the shoulder. It's just something you notice.

6. That reporter you hate, yeah, he's better than you at asking questions - Brian learned this a few years back. Professional journalist, no matter how much you loathe any one of them, are good at the art of getting information. They ask questions in rapid fire succession without, somehow, seeming too overbearing. They're almost conversational with their prey. And they're going to ask your question before you do.

7. Get to the breakfast buffet early - Or it's gone. No one case house a spread of food and drink like reporters. I'm convinced they show up with freezer bags to take as much as possible how to feed their cats.

8. The BTN people will be awesome to you - This is not to suck up, this is the truth. I have never met a nicer group of people, especially from a group that has no real reason to be nice to anyone, than the BTN. They are accomodating, friendly and amazingly professional. They'll take a minute or ten to talk with you, even if you're too shy to ask. From DiNardo to Revsine to their staff, they're the nicest people you'll meet in the media. It's just how they roll.

9. Newspaper reporters, notsomuch - Newspaper and interwebz reporters are a strange group. Where the on-air people are very friendly and accomodating (as is really their job), the print guys and gals tend to stick together in small herds that cover the same team. They can be reclusive and difficult to talk to at Media Days. There's a reason for this: they've got deadlines. Where the on-air people talk for a few minutes and they're done, the print reporters have to draft, craft and eidt their stories and get them up ASAP. Deadlines don't give a hoot about how friendly you are to others. They've got a job to do. There are notable exceptions to this psuedo rule like Adam Rittenberg and Sam Webb, but for the most part these people are really, really busy.

So there you have it. What really goes on at media days. Granted I left out the boozefest with your buddies and fellow bloggers after it's all done, but you knew that was part of the deal anyway, right? I update you tomorrow and Friday as BTMD kicks off. I may actually skip Thursday due to some other commitments, but i'll definitely be there Friday and blogging away.

* No. Not really.