If you were to wander into Birmingham's Avondale Brewery the other night and stumble upon the SEC Media Days' de facto after party, no one would blame you for thinking you'd hit the snooze button on your Zombie Apocalypse Alarm Clock.
However, the slow-moving, slack-faced, murmuring herd sloshing shoulder-to-shoulder from bar to bathroom aren't, technically, the undead. They're what's left of various S.I.D. flunkies and beat writers after a force-fed diet of podium-launched coachspeak.
Coachspeak, as a dialect, concerns itself more with capacity than clarity. In fact, the more a person says in coachspeak, the less information reaches the listener. Conversely, when surrounded by coachspeak's obfuscating influence, actual, denotation-containing, decipherable word-items assume an accelerated gravity, as if the inertia of potential meaning suddenly joins our universe and forms a gravity well around a singularity.
Such is what happened with one of the conference's new additions, Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel.
Pinkel violated the fundamental grammar of coachspeak by, you know, saying what he actually thinks. Even worse, he did so in relation to an issue bigger than who will come in on nickel packages.
When Pinkel said the late Joe Paterno was "a great man," he didn't stumble into it. No, he was pretty insistent, repeating it at least three times, which reveals, in light of the Freeh Report's findings, the myopia endemic to lifers in the coaching profession. That behind-the-wall mind-set is created both by the skewed priorities of living in a football program's bubble and the willful ignorance it takes to reinforce it.
Arguably, it's that mind-set that allowed Paterno to justify the enabling and cover-up of his defensive coordinator's predatory abuse. It's also that mind-set that has the NCAA thinking about revisiting the death penalty. After all, say what you will about SMU, but no kids were ass-raped in the Mustangs' glory days.
Other than a PR snafu, not much newsworthy happened at the so-called news event, which is why the crowd at Avondale is pretty light on shoptalk (another reason might be that, after this summer's newspaper closings and layoffs, the crop's been thinned). After "Gary Pinkel," of all things, became a trending topic on newsfeeds around the country, the other coaches learned quickly to stay mum. We are thoroughly in the reign of SEC, Inc., which means that all us pirates are in this boat together now.
So you'll not hear any concerns over the current BCS structure, the end of the BCS structure, or the replacement of the BCS structure. We support the status quo, whatever that happens to be at the moment... And also that contradictory thing that it used to be, see?
Rumor around the bar is that Penn State has decided to take down Paterno's statue, maybe as soon as this weekend. This news spurs the ragtag remainders from the sports pages to conversation, and they trouble themselves with attempts at understanding. As you'd expect with this lot, they peddle a fair mix of Old Testament retribution, sophomore-year psychology, and half-assed righteousness. More than anything, they stumble over why.
Finally, one of the old saws speaks up: "I can tell you why he covered it up," he says with the bored, flat tone of a science teacher explaining oxidation to third graders. "His team went 5-7 that year. Now let me through. I gotta piss."