Get ready for a weekly reality TV series in Westwood in what is supposed to be a (national) championship contending season for Coach Jim Mora's UCLA program. The Pac-12 has selected UCLA as the "focus" of their "documentary series" - The Drive: Pac-12 Football - for it's second season. From the official release:
Season two of The Drive will debut in early September 2014 and consist of fifteen 30-minute weekly episodes airing across all seven Pac-12 Networks, offering an unprecedented look inside UCLA football, from the first whistle of training camp to the Bruins' final game.
Different from season one, where the series split time between Arizona State and California football programs, UCLA Bruins players and coaches will be the primary focus throughout the college football season, with Pac-12 Network film crews capturing the ins and outs of their lives, both on and off the field.
Click on the full release which includes sort of a mini-teaser on what this show is going to be like with a little taste from our recently finished spring camp. It includes comments from Brett Hundley who doesn't seem to think this would be a distraction. It also provides an example of the kind of individual story line this show will develop by sharing the story of talented freshman receiver Elrdige Massington, who is looking to make a comeback after getting injured in his last year in high school.
More from the official Pac-12 release:
Head coach Jim Mora's squad returns Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley behind center, who has taken full ownership of his role as a leader heading into the season. In addition to Hundley, the program returns an immense amount of talent on both sides of the ball, including the first-ever Pac-12 Offensive/Defensive Freshman of the Year in Myles Jack. With freshman All-Americans Eddie Vanderdoes and Alex Redmond combined with defensive standouts Eric Kendricks and Kenny Clark, not to mention the return of Eldridge Massington and Owamagbe Odighizuwa from season ending injuries a year ago, the Bruins have all the key components to contend for a Pac-12 Title when their season opens Saturday, August. 30 at Virginia.
"Being part of The Drive is obviously a great way to showcase the program that we have been building here at UCLA," said Mora. "But more importantly, this is an opportunity for our student-athletes to be part of a show that is dedicated to highlighting their hard work and effort while also giving them an opportunity to tell their story. Someday, when they're old like me, they will have a copy of The Drive, sit their kids down and be able to share these memories with them in a very tangible way."
So how do folks feel about this? IMO this is potentially a high stakes gamble by Mora who likes being in total control of the image and messaging around his program. He has done a phenomenal job in building his own brand around the UCLA program, and putting it on course to reestablish the Bruins as one of the premiere (old-school) powerhouse college football programs west of the Mississippi.
But by agreeing to allow the Bruins to be featured in what is essentially a reality tv show, Mora is taking a chance. Sure he is going to have editorial control over the content but he may not have total control of the perception of his program. Imagine the drama around the program if for some reason things for some reason began to head towards the wrong direction. Is that a good thing?
Interestingly Mora wasn't enthused about it last week:
Asked last week about the possibility of UCLA being featured on the show, head coach Jim Mora didn't sound enthused - though he said Monday that the Pac-12 assuaged many of his concerns, and gave him complete editorial control over the content.
"I think that there's a real value to protecting the sanctity of the core," he told Petros and Money on AM 570. "What goes on in our meeting room belongs to us. What goes on on the practice field once the season starts - not spring and not summer camp, when we invite the fans out and we like that energy - belongs to us. Things we talk about belong to us. They don't need to be shared with the rest of the world. So that's my view of it.
"I don't like cameras in our locker rooms. I don't like cameras in our meeting rooms, unless they're UCLA cameras. Ken Norris, head of our video department, he's excellent. If we were to ever do anything like that, we would just use our people. I want faces that our players know in our locker room if we're going to be doing any video taping."
But reportedly something changed in recent days:
"We have complete editorial control. Can I say that? If something goes on that I haven't approved, that'll be the last show." Jim Mora— Bruin Report Online (@BruinReport) April 28, 2014
Hmm. Now that sounds great but it's not going to be easy just cutting off the show because that will only ratchet up any potential distraction.
The football junkie part of us will eat up this show. There is no doubt about that. However, the reality TV aspect of it screams of distraction. Certainly this is not a unique deal in today's sports world.
In terms of previous examples the results have been somewhat mixed. In baseball, the SF Giants didn't have a great season when they were featured on Showtime's "the Franchise," but they had won their title already. When the Florida Marlins were on the same show it was a disaster.
In HBO's Hard Knocks series the Jets made it to the Conference Championship the year they were featured. IIRC the Cincinnati Bengals went from 4-12 to 10-6 the first time they were featured. The Bengals were on again this past year when they went back to the playoffs. Ravens went 10-6 on the first season. Interestingly, one of the ultimate control-freak in the NFL (and many of us love him here on BN) Jim Harbaugh recently has been surprisingly open to the idea of having the 49ers featured on Hard Knocks (even though Jed York had previous said no to the idea). So there is that.
Last year Arizona State had arguably their best team since they've been in the PAC-12. But imagine the fall out for those guys if Myles Jack wasn't exclusively playing offense against them at the Rose Bowl. Heck, imagine the drama around UCLA if they were on the show following that Arizona State game - and the kind of distraction the Bruins may have faced heading into the game against Southern Cal. I don't think the Berkeley example means much from last year given they were not expected to be anything special
The bottom line is this. If UCLA is going to be a top-flight program moving forward, the media attention is going to explode this year. If the Bruins don't end up at least in the Rose Bowl, the disappointment among the players and UCLA community will only get magnified, and it may severely dampen the momentum Mora and his coaches have generated in their first two years in Westwood.
So the drama is going to be intense around what is a put-up or shut-up season for Mora in Westwood. As I mentioned above - this is a gamble for Mora. No question about the upside in this move. The payoff here if the Bruins bring home championship(s) could be absolutely massive. But if the season is a letdown the disappointment is going to feel even more crushing.
Hope he and the Bruins shine through. Football season can't get here soon enough.