These don’t resemble SEC Media Days (with an S).
There aren’t 1,100-plus media personnel from national publications, itching for issue stories. More like 100, scratching their heads.
This one-day affair shouldn’t grow more issue-prone than the OVC’s preseason picks, but it has lately.
A year ago, the coaches came to Nashville just days after SEC commissioner Mike Slive stirred conversation about his “national agenda for change,” proposals that now impact programs across Division I.
A year later, they came to Nashville on the day the NCAA hurled unprecedented penalties against Penn State, stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.
The NCAA levied a $60 million fine, four-year bowl ban, severe scholarship reductions and vacation of 112 victories dating back to 1998, stripping the legacy of no less than the late Joe Paterno.
The NCAA did so in response to Penn State’s internal probe, which alleged of a publicity-obsessed cover-up involving Paterno, the school’s former president and athletics director.
The message from the penalties is clear — no program should get too big to fail. Winning at all costs will cost all.
Even OVC coaches seem to agree, it’s a message that should resonate throughout college football.
“It seems like when I started, it was still a game,” said Watson Brown, who coaches Tennessee Tech, like all OVC members a second-tier Division I school.
He has coached in college football’s top division, at Vanderbilt and UAB, and his brother Mack holds the same job at Texas, one of college football’s richest and more pressure-packed programs.
“I’m not sure how much of a game it is any more,” Watson Brown said. “It’s all for the dollars.”
He looked at two of his players, seated across a table.
“Even on our level, these kids feel the business side and the importance of winning and the pressures of that and the year-round work that the kids do,” he said. “I don’t know that we’re out of control, but hypothetically, at the same time, it is important to understand that we are part of a university. We’re not the university.”
Murray State’s Chris Hatcher called the penalties “worse than the ‘death penalty,’” which is NCAA parlance for a suspension of play for one or more years.
He considers the penalties too harsh but acknowledges the underlying perspective problem.
“I think society is out of perspective,” he said. “I help coach Little League Baseball, and if you want to come see out of perspective, come watch Little League Baseball play a ballgame with everything that’s going on.
“Sports have always been out of perspective.”
Jacksonville State’s Jack Crowe sees parallels beyond sports.
“It’s sort of like some of these darned corporations that caused some of our fiscal issues,” he said. “Whether it’s power, whether it’s money or whether it’s football, when you let people control their own destiny, sometimes they don’t take care of all the things that affect everybody involved.
“This should have been taken care of at some point in time.”
And why didn’t Paterno and others go to proper authorities the moment they learned of his long-time assistant coach’s crimes, some having occurred in Penn State athletic facilities?
Why didn’t Penn State’s most influential people do more to protect Sandusky’s child victims?
Crowe said he’s “at a loss” but posited a theory.
“You allow yourself to see things differently than you normally would because of circumstances or consequences, then you look back, maybe two or three years later, and the person couldn’t believe themselves how they reacted,” he said.
If penalties the NCAA announced Monday don’t snap things back into perspective, the fact that we’re talking Joe Paterno should.
Before being stripped of 111 victories, he was college football’s winningest coach with 409. He was widely praised, even deified for never drawing sniffs from NCAA investigators in 46 years on the job.
“I know Joe Paterno,” Crowe said. “I know Joe from having coached against him. I know Joe from having recruited against him, and I know Joe from having been on a couple of Nike trips where it’s just a bunch of coaches all doing the same things.
“There’s nothing about this that matches that or that person.”
Still, Crowe called the penalties appropriate.
“In terms of what they’ve done, it had to be dealt with,” he said. “There’s three litmus tests for doing something serious, and they broke every one of them, as far as I can tell.”
Even on the lower end of Division I’s food chain, the hope is that the NCAA’s crushing penalties against Penn State snap things back into perspective.
That way, at least, guys like first-year Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers can come to OVC media day and talk football.
“I don’t have the resume or the pedigree to even say anything about Joe Paterno,” he said. “Penn State football has been good forever, and I’m not a Penn State guy, so I don’t get a vote about it.
“But as a football coach, I just wish that we would do more. Morally, let’s do right.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.