At College Football Media Days, Athletes Are Often Drawn Into a Conversation That Their Coaches Are Having

By Johnny Ginter on July 27, 2018 at 10:20 am
Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell

Yesterday Dennis Dodd wrote an article that was about 20% dumb and 80% whiny about star Stanford running back Bryce Love having the temerity to Skype into the Pac-12 Media Day instead of being there in person.

Love didn't want to miss summer classes, and so he didn't. Dodd took exception to that.

Put it this way: Try to envision Tim Tebow in his heyday skipping SEC Media Days of because, well, school. Right or wrong, that wouldn't have happened. The need to better himself, the conference and his school would have outstripped another summer school lecture.

That's essentially what kept Love back in Palo Alto.

So Love Skyped in. And if you're asking "Okay, but there's more to it than that, right? Like, maybe Love was sloppily eating an orange while he did it or did it while he was streaming Fortnite or kept audibly farting and blaming it on his dog or something?" my answer to you is nope! Literally the entirety of Dodd's argument is that Bryce Love should've been physically present, and by not showing up he risked missing out on adulation from the media and probably even the Heisman (assuming every voter is as exactly as petty as Dodd is):

Let's just say Stanford forfeited a bit of a leverage to protest if Love doesn't win the Heisman. Five different times Cardinal players have finished second in Heisman voting since 2009.

But at Stanford, they don't necessarily chase trophies. That's fine. too.

It's just that we thought we knew ya, Bryce. We wish we knew more.

This article is great because Dodd outright says that not only is answering his inane questions in person a better use of Bryce Love's time than going to class, but that in fact, Love trudging his ass to the media equivalent of squeezing blood from the offseason stone literally would make him a better person.

I am here to say that not only is attending class instead of the Pac-12 Media Day a much, much better use of Love's time (or the time of literally any other football player), the idea of a college athlete being a "representative of his university" should not be viewed as some cute little badge to pin on a deserving locker room leader; it's a difficult, sometimes unfair spot where athletes are expected to answer questions that their coaches try to dodge.

So demanding that in the offseason Love (student athlete, not salaried, forbidden from profiting from his image as a football player) take on the same media responsibilities as his coach (millionaire, tons of side deals and promotions, contracted state employee with media obligations written into contract) when he doesn't really feel like it, whatever the reason, is stupid.

Here's the truth about any Media Days in any conference: the real purpose they serve approximately 90% of the time is to give coaches and the media an opportunity to set up storylines going into fall camp. If you review the notes from all of the coaches during Big Ten Media Days, you'll find the traditional boilerplate info about injuries, transfers, rule changes, depth charts, starters, and so on. It's fun red meat for people desperate for new football information, but ultimately it's not often all that interesting or surprising.

These short press conferences are also usually accompanied by some of the most impenetrable coach speak to ever be uttered by anyone on this planet or any other.

Everybody talks

It doesn't matter which coach said those quotes because they're all functionally the exact same thing. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck broke out into a semi-haiku at one point about success. Who cares.

But that's okay. The constant push and pull between coaches who don't want to reveal anything about their programs and a media that is trying to get them to do exactly that is a tale as old as time. What bothers me is when players are expected to step into the same public relations role that their coaches occupy, and more pointedly, when those players become spokesmen on issues that aren't of their own making.

Urban Meyer had the most interesting presser of Big Ten Media Days because of the controversy surrounding Zach Smith and his firing. He was asked repeated, pointed questions about how and why Smith was fired and what he knew about Smith's background. It was one of those rare confluences of a huge story and forced offseason media availability, and Urban is responsible for every question that he got. There are several unanswered questions that still remain, and when or if they come, Urban will be responsible for those too.

But so, apparently, was Parris Campbell. Not that Parris had to answer questions about Zach Smith's background or the reasons why he was fired, but he was still put in the position of accounting for a controversy not of his own making, to give cover and confidence to his team and his university. That's a ton of pressure to put on a guy who probably didn't envision any of that when he sent in his commitment to Ohio State, and he'd be forgiven for not being super excited about being there.

It should also be added that Parris Campbell totally kicked ass at Big Ten Media Days and represented both himself and Ohio State football incredibly well. His answers to the inevitable Zach Smith questions were direct, reflective, and positive.

"I feel like they just need to hear a voice right now, and what better way to hear that from a fifth-year guy, an experienced guy, a guy who they’ve looked up to."– Parris Campbell

Hell yeah dude.

I just wish that we could leave the tough, necessary questions to the coaches who should be required to answer them and the insanely awesome stuff to the guys who should get a chance to do more of that. Representing your school should be a fun opportunity for players to allow media and the general public to know more about themselves and the team.

And if they decide that their education is more important than that, that's okay! All of the Dennis Dodds in the world shouldn't change their minds.

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