By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – When I covered Big Ten football media day for the first time in 1992, Kirk Ferentz was in his final season as the head coach at Maine, Bret Bielema was a senior defensive lineman on the Iowa football team, Tim Dwight was entering his junior year of high school and there was no such thing as social media.
Turn the calendar back to today and Ferentz is now entering his 20th season as the Iowa head coach; Bielema has been the head coach at both Wisconsin and Arkansas; Dwight has been retired from the NFL since 2007 and is 43 years old, and the thought of life without social media is probably impossible for some to comprehend.
So yes, a lot has changed since I attended Big Ten media day for the first time.
Chicago has remained the location, but the site of the event has changed several times, including this year with the Chicago Marriott Downtown serving as the new host beginning on Monday and lasting through Tuesday.
But was hasn’t changed is the purpose of Big Ten media day, and that never will change.
Media day is the Big Ten's version of an annual ribbon cutting to usher in a new season.
Every head coach says over and over that he is excited to be there, but most of them probably wouldn’t be there if they had a choice.
Ferentz says one of the high points to being the Iowa head coach are those precious moments when Big Ten media day finally ends and he can start heading back to Iowa City.
Of course, he is joking, but there is some truth in that statement.
Big Ten media day is everything that Kirk Ferentz isn’t.
It is way more style and self-promotion than substance and self-deprecation.
The rise of social media, and its non-stop 24-hour news cycle, has made the annual media day event in both football and men’s basketball sort of outdated and less newsworthy.
College head coaches, including Ferentz, are more accessible these days compared to when I first started covering the Hawkeyes in 1992.
Ferentz meets with the media at least two or three times during spring practice, while all of his assistants also meet with the media at least once during the spring.
Ferentz also will conduct one-on-one interviews during the offseason upon request, as will his assistants.
In fact, Ferentz was our most recent guest on the KCJJ/All Hawkeyes radio show this past Wednesday in an interview that last approximately 30 minutes.
Ferentz’s predecessor, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as accessible to the media.
That isn’t a knock on Hayden Fry, but more a sign of the times.
I don’t recall Fry doing many interviews during the offseason, or during spring practice for that matter, so Big Ten media day was often the first chance to speak with him in months.
It was also the first chance to see the new Iowa media guide, and that was always a big deal before social media because reporters would skim up and down the roster looking for any signs of player attrition.
We still do that now, but players usually announce either on Twitter or on Instagram that they are leaving the team.
Three of Iowa’s most recent cases of attrition – defensive end Romeo McKnight, tight end Jacob Coons and cornerback Manny Rugamba – all announced their decision to leave the team on social media.
One of the first signs that a player has left the Iowa football team is when he resurfaces on Twitter because Iowa players are prohibited from being on Twitter.
I would sleep just fine if the Big Ten decided to discontinue its annual football media day event because it has run its course in many ways. It no longer is a great setting for news because the news happens so fast now and never stops being delivered.
But on the other hand, what’s the harm with having Big Ten media day, besides to your checkbook?
The Big Ten Conference has reason to be proud of its product in football and wants to show it off to the world as a way to promote the upcoming season.
And many members of the media seem to cherish the event, both professionally and personally.
There was a time when I sort of felt that way.
Some of my closest friends from college used to live in or near downtown Chicago in areas such as Wrigleyville and Big Ten media day gave us a chance to reconnect and have a good time, sometimes probably too good of a time.
But those friends have since moved away from downtown Chicago to cozy suburbs such as Highland Park and Northbrook, and now their idea of having a good time is dinner and lights out by 10.
Every year brings new questions and new storylines where Iowa is concerned, but Wisconsin’s stranglehold on the Big Ten West Division is one storyline that has persisted for years.
Is Iowa poised this fall for another breakthrough season like 2015 when it edged the Badgers 10-6 on the way to a 12-0 regular season?
Or was that just a fluke, considering Wisconsin has won five of the last six games against Iowa, and that no other Iowa team has won 12 games in a season?
Is that now what it takes to beat Wisconsin, a 12-win Iowa team?
Kirk Ferentz’s place in Hawkeye legend and lore will be another hot topic at media day, much to the dismay of Ferentz, who hates to talk about himself.
Ferentz enters this season with 143 career victories as the Iowa head coach and will move past Fry as the school’s all-time winningest coach with his next victory.
Ferentz also will match Fry in coaching longevity at Iowa with Ferentz entering his 20th season.
My guess is that Ferentz will spend his time at media day deflecting praise to those around him, meaning his players, assistant coaches and support staff because it’s never about Kirk Ferentz.
Iowa will be represented from a player standpoint by senior defensive linemen Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson and by junior quarterback Nate Stanley.
Stanley will be the second junior to represent Iowa at Big Ten media day, joining former All-America linebacker Josey Jewell, who was bestowed the honor in 2016.
Ferentz said last week on the radio that Stanley earned the invitation by being named a team captain.
“It says a lot about how his teammates feel about him,” Ferentz said.
As for other storylines outside of Iowa, the spotlight will shine brightly on new Nebraska head coach Scott Frost as he starts his quest to restore the Cornhuskers to dominance, and on Jim Harbaugh as he tries to achieve the greatness that was expected upon his return to his alma mater, but that so far has eluded him.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will also draw a crowd, because for one, he’s Urban Meyer, and two, he coaches the Buckeyes.
But he still might have some explaining to do for what happened this past Nov. 4th when Iowa dismantled Ohio State 55-24 at Kinnick Stadium.
I might even ask that question if I can get close enough to Meyer to ask him.