Media guides right under our thumbs is just one way SEC Media Days have changed

HOOVER, Ala. — This, I suspect, is what you know about the SEC Football Media Days:

You know the scene in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel when Nick Saban arrives, where the lunatic fringe has gathered in hopes of an autograph, selfie or perhaps a touch from Saban that will cure a nagging illness.

You know the videos of coaches being marched from ballroom to ballroom, illuminated by TV lights, like some jailhouse perp walk.

You know the images of “student-athletes” in their fancy new suits – I swear I’ve actually seen tags on coat cuffs the players forgot to cut off – speaking to an audience for whom “dressing up” means wearing the khakis that don’t have barbecue stains in the lap.

You know the usual descriptions of “zoo” and “circus,” which I noted in this space a year ago were patently unfair to zoos and circuses everywhere.

You know, it wasn’t always this way.

This being my 20-something’th SEC Media Days, there is much I have seen changed. One thing in particular: the media guides.

I need no reminders that printed products are in a nosedive toward obsolescence. But it’s happening to media guides, those thick, magazine-style productions of sports information staffs nationwide.

Blame the progress of digital media – and blame the NCAA, which of course wants to regulate everything but the thermostat in the Wynfrey ballroom.

Used to, we’d register for SEC Media Days and every team’s media guides would be stacked on tables. There would be empty boxes to snatch, and we’d meander up the table, reach for guides and fill the boxes, starving sportswriters at a Golden Corral buffet of numbers and minutiae.

Invariably, someone would count up the total pages of the guides and weigh the entire stack, a collective stat for the collection of statistics.

That was before the NCAA began meddling, trying to keep the rich from getting richer in an arms race of media guides. There are now regulations – inside pages must all be black-and-white, etc. – to keep things in check.

They became, and still are, recruiting tools. One year, I think I counted six pictures of Erin Andrews interviewing coaches and players in one media guide, suggesting that an incoming player would soon himself have a blonde Siren of the Sidelines stick a microphone in front of his face. A quick look at Alabama’s book a year ago shows that nearly a third is devoted to all the things that appeal to recruits and their families – fancy buildings, a litany of grads-turned-pros and various bling.

I had a colleague who loved to collect those media guides. He’d apply for a credential, take a vacation day and drive to Birmingham to grab a box of media guides, play in the SEC’s golf scramble and collect an SEC golf shirt.

Back then, nobody fretted over the ethics of a $15 polo. Having amassed a collection year after year, a fellow writer once suggested in all seriousness to a conference poohbah, “Could you give us golf shorts next year?”

Now, we don’t get golf. We don’t get golf shirts.

And we don’t get media guides, or the accompanying back pain from lugging them away. Schools still print them, with more limited distribution or to lure recruits or to sell to fans. But the load has been lifted here.

Instead, we’ll be given log-in information for a website on which every media guide is published. They’ll hand us a thumb-drive with PDF versions of each team’s media guide, suitable for downloading onto our laptops.

So we’ll carry out all the media guides in one pocket – a pocket, alas, that isn’t sewn into SEC golf shorts.

Mark McCarter, a four-time Alabama Sports Writer of the Year and a reporter and columnist for 35-plus years, is a special contributor for WHNT.com at the 2017 SEC Media Days. Follow his columns and live blogs this week on WHNT.com.