SEC Football Media Days expected to return to Atlanta

072022 Atlanta: Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran autographs a helmet for a Georgia fan as he arrives at SEC Media Days in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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072022 Atlanta: Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran autographs a helmet for a Georgia fan as he arrives at SEC Media Days in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The roof over the indoor field inside the College Football Hall of Fame looks remarkably like the Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric that covered the old Georgia Dome. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey knows this because he was at the Dome that night in 2008 when a tornado ripped through the roof as it made its way through Atlanta and forced the postponement and relocation of the SEC men’s basketball tournament.

That indoor field served as the main area where SEC Media Days were staged this week. So, when an intense thunderstorm was pummeling the roof Thursday just as Sankey was introducing Tennessee coach Josh Heupel, he couldn’t ignore the parallels.

“I do know what tornadoes sound like now, so if you hear something resembling a freight train, please seek a safe place,” Sankey quipped.

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Thankfully, no tempests accompanied the intermittent hard rains this week that had featured speakers often using their coaching voices to be heard. Other than that and some spotty Wi-Fi reception, 2022 SEC Media Days went off without a hitch.

Things went so well, in fact, that Sankey basically assured that the media days will come back to Atlanta.

“I’m confident we’ll seek the opportunity to return to Atlanta,” Sankey told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You’ve got a giant video screen, goal posts and a football field on which to stage your coaches and players, I’m not sure I can think of a better venue.”

Media days were conducted in Atlanta this week for only the second time in the event’s 38-year history. It was supposed to be back in 2020 but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The SEC’s annual preseason football convention has been held near its headquarters in the Birmingham area every other year since 1985. Next year it is scheduled to debut in Nashville.

No other dates are scheduled, but indications are that the SEC is going to start moving its circus around. There have been some preliminary discussions about taking the show to Dallas in the future, though the Birmingham area always will be a permanent fixture.

So, also, may be Atlanta.

“It’s actually fun to move it around a little bit,” Sankey said. “But, again, the environment here in Atlanta is so unique and is attached fully to college football’s big picture. There are special attachments from the Southeastern Conference here in Atlanta and the College Football Hall of Fame.”

Atlanta annually hosts the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Peach Bowl also conducts its annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, which has always featured an SEC team, including Georgia vs. Oregon on Sept. 3. The Peach Bowl’s postseason bowl game this year will serve as a College Football Playoff semifinal.

It follows that Atlanta would semi-regularly host SEC Media Days.

“I am working on it,” College Football Hall of Fame CEO Kimberly Beaudin said. “This week was amazing.”

Highlights of this year’s event included Sankey’s state-of-the-SEC address Monday morning, in which he hinted at the possibility of future expansion and confirmed the league’s preference for a nine-game schedule featuring three permanent rivals as well as a 12-team CFB playoff featuring six automatic qualifiers and six at-large bids.

There was frank discussion about the realities of NIL, including revelations that 95 Georgia players are receiving NIL compensation and Nick Saban’s claim that Alabama has the highest overall NIL payroll in the country. Meanwhile, Georgia’s announcement that it signed Kirby Smart to a record-breaking contract extension in the middle of the proceedings Thursday certainly was a ground-shaking moment.

Mike Leach’s Netflix recommendations, Shane Beamer’s Soulja Boy parody and Clark Lea’s hyperbolic proclamation that “in time Vanderbilt football will be the best program in the country” were among memorable moments this year.

There were some lowlights, too. One of Texas A&M’s player representatives – senior wide receiver Ainias Smith -- was a no-show because he was arrested on DWI and gun charges a day before his scheduled appearance. And Auburn coach Bryan Harsin shared his feelings about an offseason inquiry that he called an “unfounded personal attack.” But moving “Radio Row” into the Hall and staging live-remote broadcasts on the second floor overlooking the indoor field was considered a success. In 2018, radio stations set up next door in the Omni Hotel.

The Hall of Fame’s “Evolution of SEC” display also was in the gallery and was a hit.

“I thought that was pretty special,” Sankey said. “We’ll continue to think about how we can make connections with fans at these events. … But there are a lot of things here in Atlanta that provide unique connections to the conference and to college football and activate the senses that the football season is upon us.”

To be clear, the roof over the Hall of Fame’s indoor field is not made of the material that was ripped up by the 2008 tornado. It is made of “Birdair Tensotherm,” a heat-reflecting, tensile-membrane roofing fabric designed to stand up against all kinds of weather.

Atlanta always is looking to improve on its past.