The recession has claimed yet another casualty: one of college football's more time-honored traditions.
Faced with schools looking to cut costs and a changing media landscape in which newspapers and local television outlets are struggling financially, several college conferences have decided to cancel their annual mid- to late-July football media days.
For years, the conferences have offered journalists the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with head coaches, standout football players and league commissioners for question-and-answer sessions in relatively informal settings. In turn, the journalists would return to their respective organizations with season-preview stories, reporting for in-depth projects and simply stronger working relationships with school officials.
But this summer, Conference USA, the Ohio Valley Conference, the Sun Belt Conference and the Big Sky Conference are doing away with their in-person gatherings. They'll offer reporters forums such as live video streaming or phone teleconferences as a substitute.
"It's all financial," said Jon Kasper, the Big Sky's assistant commissioner for media relations. "The schools decided that was something that we could easily cut and save a few thousand dollars for each school."
Conference USA decided to eliminate its formal media event in Memphis and replace it with a series of video teleconferences from each campus, including UCF, on July 30.
Conference USA Assistant Commissioner Russ Anderson said one reason for the decision was declining attendance from media. Newspapers are facing unprecedented financial challenges from the loss of classified advertising, high newsprint costs and the migration of readers to the Internet. Local television news operations are also making cutbacks. Anderson said only half of the conference's 12 markets were represented by journalists at last year's event.
Kasper estimates the Big Sky will save $30,000 because of its decision to cancel its three-day session, which had been scheduled to take place July 19-21 in Park City, Utah. He said schools such as Division I-AA runner-up Montana and Portland State -- which would have had to fly in a head coach, at least one player, the athletic director and the sports information director for the event -- will save up to $5,000 apiece. In place of the event, the conference is planning to hold at least a conference call among coaches and media members.
The Ohio Valley Conference usually held its media sessions for two days in Nashville, but Assistant Commissioner Kyle Schwartz said league officials started talking about canceling the event as early as January when schools recognized they'd be facing significant cuts at the state level for academics. Schwartz said the conference will save $14,000 and redistribute that money among the 10 league colleges.
But will the changes mean fans will receive less information, or lower-quality information, about their favorite teams?
John Humenik, a former longtime sports information director at Florida and currently the executive director of the College Sports Information Directors of America, isn't sure.
"I think that there's a sense that fans have probably never had more information put in front of them on a daily basis than they have today," Humenik said. "We're entering a whole new era. I think the fans are adversely affected from the standpoint that you can't go to one place and get everything. You probably have to go to multiple places."
News consumers in Florida might recognize at least one change. For the first time in recent memory, the Florida Sports Writers Association will not hold its annual summer media days, which usually feature all of the state's college head coaches. The reason: The FSWA has disbanded.
To be sure, the economic downturn won't prevent the wealthiest conferences from continuing as they had in the past. The Southeastern Conference will hold its media days July 22-24 at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. The Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10 will hold their events as scheduled.
The Atlantic Coast Conference, however, decided to streamline its event from three days to two days, holding its annual question-and-answer session with Commissioner John Swofford on the first day instead of a third day, said Associate Commissioner Mike Finn. In addition, the ACC changed the site of its July 26-27 event from the Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa to the Grandover Resort & Conference Center in Greensboro, N.C., because Greensboro is more centrally located -- and, therefore, less expensive -- for the league's media to reach.
It's unclear if the changes to conference media days will last for one year or are the sign of things to come.
"Our concern is -- and we won't know until we get there -- is how many people will attend, particularly from outlying areas," said Jim Muldoon, the associate commissioner of the Pac-10, which will hold its event July 30 at the Sheraton Gateway LAX hotel in Los Angeles.