Rumors of the impending death of the Big Eight Skywriters Tour coming soon to a campus near you have been exaggerated.
Not that this annual preseason media junket to all the conference football camps is immortal. It could vanish overnight, like the brontosaurus.
"From our standpoint, we hope it's not a dinosaur," says Tim Allen, a former Tour director who was kicked upstairs actually down the hall to assistant commissioner, "because it provides us with 10 days of exposure throughout our six-state area."
At bargain basement rates, too, because the media outlets pay for the cost of transportation and for their accommodations. Each school provides an evening meal for the hungry writers and broadcasters while the conference office's primary responsibility is to prevent participants from dying of thirst.
THE BIG Eight office budgets $5,000 for the Skywriters tour. But, Allen added, "We've never spent that much."
Whatever the bottom line, it's money well spent because, as Allen says, "We couldn't buy that kind of publicity."
Not many of these tub-thumping tours still exist around the country. The Southwest Conference has one it's the biggest, in fact but the SWC is on shaky ground and could fold, spindle or mutilate any time now.
The Pacific-10 also hosts a tour, but the widespread locales of that league's schools escalate the travel costs to the point where only about a dozen media members take part.
This year's Big Eight Skywriters Tour has about 35 signed up.
"Our numbers have fluctuated over the years," Allen said. "It's down this year. . .I think because Colorado is playing so early."
Indeed, with the Buffs scheduled to play Tennessee in the inaugural Disneyland Pigskin Classic on Aug. 26, no Colorado media-type is on the tour for the first time in its 28-year history.
AS MOST of you know, the term Skywriters is an anachronism. Once upon a time, participants flew to most of the camps via chartered aircraft. Early tour members can tell their grandchildren that they flew on a DC-3, a Martin 404, a Convair 440 and lived.
Today we fly commercial jets to Denver and back while spending the equivalent of one full day specifically 24 hours and 45 minutes on a bus. Fortunately, contemporary motor coaches come restroom-equipped.
I'm sure you've heard the undercurrent about the possibility of Big Eight expansion. Surely before the turn of the century, the Big Eight will have at least two more members which would, of course, mean mean two more tour stops.
If those two new schools were far-flung I've heard talk about Air Force and Brigham Young, for example the additional transporation costs might force many media outlets to bow out.
SHOULD NOT enough media outlets want to continue, the Big Eight has Plan B on the books.
"We sat down a few years ago," Allen explained, "and devised an ideal pre-season Press Day, and we have that in place if we need it."
Essentially, it's the same format used for Basketball Press Day when the league office flies each head coach and two players into Kansas City for a media gathering at a hotel near the airport.
However, if the Big Eight added a couple of Southwest Conference schools, the extra cost of a Skywriters Tour probably wouldn't be prohibitive. Still, it would mean more time on a bus, and that's not a thrilling prospect.
ALLEN DID come up with one fringe benefit, though.
"I don't think very many Skywriters have gone through Anadarko," he said.
Gee, I never thought of that.