COMMENTARY: Online Media Day drab comedy

BACK IN THE DAY, when the Web meant only spiders and duck feet, West Coast football fans were treated to a feast every August. Pac-10 beat writers would assemble for an entire week, hopscotching through the conference talking with coaches and players. Each day's newspaper was an information explosion. Nowadays, though, there's just Pac-10 Media Day -- a watered down, politically correct bore fest.

Worse, those of us unbalanced enough to seek out this annual yawner in real time via the Pac-10's live video stream, well, we had another thing coming. Namely, dead air. The Pac-10 is loaded with major research universities, including the Silicon Valley's favorite feeder, Stanford. And yet, the Conference of Champions couldn't manage to get its streaming video working until after Washington State and UW had come and gone.

The league's feed cut in and out the rest of the day but maybe that was a blessing. I didn't really need to hear Pete Carroll recycle all his "I'm excited!" quotes from last year's gathering. I'm optimistic Pete will again be pumped, pumped I say, next August.

Awakened from my coma late in the afternoon, I returned to the Pac-10 site to see if the Washington State and UW portions were being made available retroactively.

I wanted to see what reporters would ask All-America candidate Mkristo Bruce. I wanted to see if Tyrone Willingham was present or if Isaiah Stanback had just brought along a cardboard cutout.

Instead, the Pac-10 greeted me with a live shot of the empty conference room save for a (presumed) reporter, sans shoes, sitting three feet from the lens and doing her impression of The Thinker. Eventually the reporter stood, put her shoes on, tugged at her slacks, and walked off camera.

Kill me, Tom Hansen. Just freaking kill me now.

THIS MODERN-DAY, drive-by media day is far cry from the glory days of the 60s, 70s and early 80s when beat writers would gather for an entire week to interview coaches and players. They called it the Skywriters' Tour, because the reporters flew to each campus, spending a half-day at each stop. The result was a steady diet of great columns and feature stories -- in pretty much all the major dailies on the West Coast -- on every team in the conference.

By the time Sunday rolled around, scribes like the Spokesman-Review's Harry Missildine, the Seattle Times' Georg N. Meyer and the L.A. Times' Jim Murray had you truly versed on the conference's key story lines. The league's present day format -- and current reporter-coach climate -- makes that nigh impossible. There's plenty of blame to go around.

Media members blame coaches for not giving them enough interesting material. Coaches blame the media for unfair articles. The Pac-10 thinks --- who knows what the heck the Pac-10 thinks. They couldn't even muster enough enthusiasm to promote Media Day on their website leading up to Thursday, belatedly tossing up a small banner ad on the right side of the page.

But they made up for it by confusing Washington State and UCLA, as evidenced by the photo accompanying this story. Color me a Media Day crimson optimist, but I feel Washington State's prospects for a bowl game increase markedly now that the Cougs have two teams in the Pac-10. Go Bruins. Karl, do you believe in the bubble screen? Just asking.

SOME OF WHAT Media Day has become must also be laid at the feet of the inquisitors themselves. Some coaches have been hammered in recent years, simply for being too truthful. And the players who accompanied their coaches to Los Angeles on Thursday were left to stare off into space, all but ignored by the assembled throng.

Not all media are created equal, of course. Wordsmiths like Craig Smith and Bud Withers of The Seattle Times, Jim Moore of the Seattle PI and Don Ruiz and Dave Boling of the Tribune are a credit to the industry.

But Thursday there were more than a few "reporters" on hand whose questions were banal enough to have made Geraldo wince. I dare say if Missildine were alive today, 'Ol Harry would have walked up to the guy who kept kissing Carroll's ring and given him a gravelly earful.

STILL, NOT EVEN former Husky AD Barbara Hedges could proclaim with a straight face that all the coaches in L.A. Thursday were, to their credit, forthcoming. A mere 15 minutes were allotted player and coach for the group Q&A -- many simply recited their media guide outlook and oh look at that, time's up.

The SEC allots their coaches two hours at the podium, not 15 minutes. Granted, two hours would be a long time to listen to a cardboard Willingham continually refer to itself in the third cutout. Two hours of insight from Arizona's Mike Stoops such as how "you win after you become a team" would be painful. But 15 minutes is far too brief, regardless of the additional off-camera session after the group Q&A.

Speaking of that, what if reporters were simply waiting for the one-on-ones to unearth the insight, to ask the tough questions? Maybe they didn't want to tip their hand to the other reporters? Not so much.

Many of the dailies' lead college football story Friday was something akin to 'Writers pick USC No. 1 in league', confirming what was apparent from the outset of Media Day in the Pac-10. Most of the meat from this event was sitting on the buffet table.

Bring back the Skywriters.

CF.C Executive Editor Greg Witter contributed to this commentary.

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