ESPN is putting the media into media timeouts this season in Southeastern Conference men's basketball.
League coaches for years have been interviewed before games, at halftime or after games, but now they are having to discuss what they are witnessing during first-half timeouts. Florida's Billy Donovan gave two such interviews last week when the Gators hosted Vanderbilt and Kentucky on ESPN.
Last Tuesday was the first such experience for Commodores coach Kevin Stallings.
"There are some coaches who love to see themselves on camera, but I don't think in general that it's something coaches would prefer to do," Stallings said. "We agreed to do it, so that's what we've got. It's a little bit of a runoff from the NBA and some things they are doing, and it was just a concept that might make our game a little more enjoyable to people who were watching it on television."
Conference coaches were introduced to the idea of ESPN's new interviewing format last spring at the league meetings in Destin, Fla. The SEC and ESPN are in the second school year of a 15-year contract in which the cable network is paying the league more than $2 billion for the rights to athletic telecasts.
Most of ESPN's investment was to obtain an increased number of football games, but the network now spotlights SEC basketball on three nights (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) instead of the one (Tuesday) under the previous arrangement.
"I guess it's kind of just the new landscape right now with all the TV packages and TV revenue," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "They want more access to what's going on, not just in the locker room but during games. I don't know if it's been a big issue. We've had to do it a couple of times.
"Are you asking if we'd rather not have any distractions like that? I think every coach would say that, but I don't know that it's become a major deal for anybody yet."
Interviews outside the pregame, halftime and postgame realms have become more prevalent throughout sports in recent years. Baseball managers now provide live or taped interviews between innings, and bowlers are conversing with announcers between frames.
Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden gave a live interview during second-quarter action in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech that decided the 1999 national championship.
"I think it has worked out well," Donovan said. "It's not like they're holding us that long, and I'm sure for them it adds to their telecast. They're making those timeouts a little bit longer, and the interview is only for about 30 seconds or 40 seconds.
"There is enough time, at least for me, to be able to go back into the huddle and talk to our guys and get done what I need to get done."
SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said there are four occasions each year in which league leaders meet with ESPN officials. Ideas are bounced off one another at these gatherings, Bloom added, and new issues and new technologies are always discussed.
So who knows at which points of a game coaches will be talking in front of cameras when this contract winds down in 2023-24.
"My preference would be certainly not to do it," Stallings said, "but at the same time, if that's what we agreed to do, we need to do it willingly and with a good attitude."
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