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August 04, 2010

A day almost no one likes

Ah, yes, it's that time again, time for college football media days. They're among the rites of August, like the State Fair or back-to-school shopping. Everybody is undefeated and a bowl contender. The players are bigger, faster and stronger. They can't wait until that first game. Optimism courses through the team like the river of water that rushes through our front yard when it rains.

All the players and coaches are available for interviews, so it's easy for the reporters. Most everyone is smiling and happy.

Yet hardly anyone likes media days.

For reporters, it's the same thing every year -- listen to the coach talk for awhile, ask him some questions, then head out to the field and wait while the players have all sorts of "official" photographs taken.

Rarely does anything new come out of these sessions, other than maybe a player being suspended for some off-the-field transgression or learning of a couple of guys who, for one reason or the other, won't return. Players are coached to stick to the company line and answer questions politely but with caution so they don't say anything controversial.

For the players, it has to be even worse. It's usually hot and sticky and they're out there in full uniform in the middle of the day. Most end up sitting or standing around the whole time because they're not the stars and no one wants to talk to them, though I imagine for some, that's just fine.

The stars, meanwhile, are paraded in front of TV cameras, where they answer the same questions over and over. Finished with those interviews, they're promptly surrounded by writers and radio types and get the same questions yet again. I mean, how many times can Iowa State's Austen Arnaud come up with a creative way to answer when he's asked for the umpteeth time if the offense will be better now that everyone has a year of experience with coordinator Tom Herman's system.

Oh, and don't forget the photographers, who arrange the players in all kinds of silly poses to try to get something different. I'd like to see them go retro, back to those black and white photos of the 1940s and '50s, you know, the ones with the quarterback cocking his arm like he's getting ready to pass, the running back in a swivel-hipped pose while stiff-arming an imaginary opponent, the wide receiver pretending he's leaping to catch a pass and my personal favorite, a defensive lineman diving to the ground with arms and legs outstretched because, well, what else do you do with a defensive lineman?

So, why does everyone put themselves through this yearly exercise?

Mainly because that's just the way things are done. With everyone available in one place, reporters can stock up on stories for a couple of weeks. As repetitive as the questions might be, the players and coaches can get them out of the way in one day and then start concentrating on football. The school gets a ton of free publicity because newspapers and Web sites display their media day coverage prominently. It might be a drag, but in the end, everyone benefits.

Plus, if you're at Iowa State, like I was today, you can always go to Hickory Park for lunch. And that makes enduring almost anything tolerable.

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