Marky Billson, host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW
I was shocked by the demise of the website SEC Country.
It seemed SEC Country had surpassed Saturday Down South, a site I once wrote for. SEC Country relied on staff, SDS relied on freelancers.
Therefore the access, the content, and the scoops SEC Country had were more prevalent. Plus, SEC Country covered all sports; not just college football.
Even after the announcement the site would shut down on June 30, SEC Country sent a reporter to the Tennessee Volunteers? caravan in Kingsport last Thursday. To send a reporter out to the fifth caravan of the tour is a costly project.
So Cox Media, decided to pull the plug on not just SEC Country, but their Big 10 site, Land of 10, and DieHards, which covers the other three conferences.
Too much expense. Time to focus on local news (Cox Media owns more than 100 broadcasting outlets, 100 digital platforms, and a handful of newspapers).
I?ve been in this boat before. In 2009 I was hired to be an editor and reporter (I had another official title, but that was my job) for a website called coachesaid.com, which was going to cover high school sports throughout the country.
After relocating and with 10 months left on my lease, the site shut down within two months.
One of the problems with coachesaid.com was that we were asked to shy away from controversial topics. For instance, on one occasion the major sports story of the day concerned a hazing incident on a high school football team.
Imagine being told you couldn?t report on the story that was the lead on not only all the sportscasts in a major market, but the newscasts as well.
You can see why coachesaid.com?s national ambitions were quickly quelled.
SEC Country?s demise, however, had similar undertones. Granted, fanboy coverage of college athletics is hardly the sole domain of a particular website, but in 2016 I had one of their reporters on Tri-Cities Sports NOW to offer perspective on the Vols.
Twice he mentioned Tennessee had played the toughest schedule in the country, but I could not find any source backing up this claim.
More recently, the site ran an unnecessary and completely one sided ?Randy Sanders is a great guy? piece after the East Tennessee State football coach was suspended for striking a player. The piece interviewed subjects who had known Sanders a decade before when he was a Tennessee assistant coach.
Covering college sports is more than regurgitating the fluff a sports information department releases. For instance, at the Vols caravan a story was told on how former ETSU football coach Carl Torbush took a grim view of media attending practice reporting injuries.
This is nothing new. Years ago, in covering the Pittsburgh Panthers for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, reporters were told before a big game not to report injuries by then Pitt head coach Walt Harris.
The decree lasted half a week, until Larry Fitzgerald?s father told Brent Musburger Pitt?s starting running back wouldn?t play just prior to a game with Texas A & M.
After that, Pitt?s beat reporters ignored the request. It was unlikely Pitt would wish to sacrifice the free publicity they received from the media because reporters were doing their job. Besides, the caveat laid down by Harris actually put the players in further risk of harm.
Besides, any decent editor would stand up for his reporter in that situation. If ETSU were to deny access, then they would be hurting themselves. Right now there is one print beat reporter covering the Bucs. If ETSU denied this reporter, they would get coverage only from their own website and broadcasting outlets. And the local media could make up for it with features on high school athletes, smaller colleges, or wire copy of the Vols and Virginia Tech. There are plenty of options.
The media has the power, not the team.
So normally, I would lament the loss of a website like SEC Country. But a recent ad for hiring staff suggested they wanted ?a skilled, professional and passionate fan,? not a journalist.
Disappointing. And ultimately why SEC Country won?t be missed.
Marky Billson hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities 12?2 p.m. ET weekdays. Watch his show live or archived here and here.