Before Pac-12 media days, the ‘skywriters tour’ prevailed
By Joey Kaufman
The Pac-12 Conference’s media days, with the first of the two-day press junket to begin Wednesday, will unfold at a shopping mall by the star-filled sidewalk of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One coach after another will take the stage and field questions from300-plus credentialed media members. The conference’s television networks will broadcast the event.
The annual occurrence is an elaborate affair.
But the forebear to media days, more than half a century ago, involved a less grandiose setup. Starting in 1961, about 30 sportswriters toured the conference’s five schools – USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford and Washington – visiting with their football coaches and players prior to the season. Most of the reporters arrived to file stories for their respective newspapers.
The invitation came from Tom Hamilton, the conference commissioner and a retired Navy admiral who sought to drum up interest after the conference nearly folded two years earlier. Before the 1959 season, the Pacific Coast Conference disbanded, while Hamilton kept the four California schools, along with Washington, together.
“The attention that was gained was significant,” said Tom Hansen, the conference’s public relations director until 1967 and later its commissioner for 26 years, noting the swath of preseason stories that circulated.
The model, also adopted by the Big Ten and SEC, continued until 1990. It was dubbed the “skywriters’ tour.”
To clarify a few things: The touring scribes spent one day at each school in the conference, often starting in the Pacific Northwest before descending along the coast, according to Jim Muldoon, the Pac-10 public relations director from 1979-2007. The tour grew to 40-plus writers, including some TV and radio reporters, in the late 1970s. The daily itinerary at a school involved a tour of a campus, interviews with coaches and players, a viewing of practice and an evening social gathering, once stories hit the presses.