TAMPA, Fla. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey took on all questions following the College Football Playoff press conference at the Tampa Convention Center on Sunday morning without the slightest stammer or slip.
The bespectacled Sankey has a professorial nature about him, extremely well-spoken while carrying himself with a distinctly regal air.
“You don’t answer questions by not having conversations,” Sankey said during an impromptu Q&A session with both national and SEC media.
Sankey had an interesting take on Alabama’s recent football dominance in the league, explaining why he chooses not to use the word dynasty to describe the Tide’s success.
“They obviously have a great run of success, no one can deny that,” said Sankey, who took over for previous SEC commissioner Mike Slive on June 1, 2015.
“I don’t use the word dynasty. Dynasty was a TV show on ABC in the late 1980s. That’s my frame of reference. You have to earn every day, every week, every year, your status.”
Alabama will play Clemson at 8:17 p.m. ET on Monday in the College Football Playoff championship game at Raymond James Stadium (TV: ESPN).
The SEC is looking for a league member to win a ninth national title in the past 11 years, five of which would be claimed by coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide in that span.
Sankey, however, said he would just as quickly dismiss the “dynasty” term as it would relate to the SEC’s football success.
“If someone suggests a program or a conference is a dynasty, I think that introduces complacency, and so I would run from that label,” Sankey said. “I would say there’s a great run of success which a team has rightly earned over a period of years, but they’re going to be challenged Monday night, and they’re going to be challenged next season, and they were challenged every week this season.
“I think that is a better explanation of a team’s success than simply a particular noun.”
Here are other snippets from Sankey’s Q&A session on Sunday:
His take on pro players practicing with college teams:
… We have Olympians practicing with track teams, and basketball probably in greater numbers than others will have former players come back. There’s probably good and bad. Former players probably say ‘Wait a second, you’re going to put me in pads and a helmet, I’m gonna go out there?’ I don’t think it’s a healthy distraction, but I think it’s almost a non-event, to be quite honest with you, because it’s been a non-event for a long period of time in a number of sports.
Thoughts on nonconference rivalry games late in SEC season hurting teams in rankings, and does he have control to change that if he wanted?
Do we have control? Sure, but those are important rivalries, those are in-state rivalries, all with ACC schools, and we’ve honored that as part of our schedule. We have great rivalry that weekend among conference opponents. The Iron Bowl, notably, so we’ve not looked at a different approach to that weekend. From the standpoint of allowing more teams to be ranked highly, I don’t have to go back very far to show four SEC teams in the top five or six, so I don’t think placement of those games affects our ability to have teams highly ranked.
Thoughts on realigning the divisions, and how often does that conversation comes up?
It comes up I think every time there’s more than six media gathered together to ask. That’s about it. We’ve had 25 years of a great football championship (game) and great football competition with the divisions, and people have followed our league, so we’re pleased to have set a quality example of how we should establish divisions.
How does Alabama’s dominance affect the health of college football?
I hope for great competition, and I think having a team with the level of success you’ve seen out of Alabama means that right now we have 13 football staffs in the conference evaluating how they can access our conference championship next year, that makes for great competition.
I think there’s a forgetfulness this season that Ole Miss was up (21) points in the second quarter against Alabama (and) Texas A&M had the lead in the third quarter. We had some teams that were really devastated by injuries this year.
It’s not as if the University of Alabama football program has run away; they’ve had great success and they are on a great run, and you have to credit them or that, but I would not use the word dynasty, and I shared earlier that from an evaluative standpoint, you might look at the run UCLA had, which I think elevated college basketball nationally.
The notion that somehow a program winning a number of championships consecutively is bad for college football is not something I accept.
Is adding a ninth conference game to SEC football on the back burner?
We went through the conversation 2 1/2 years in a really thorough way. You never say never, but it’s not a front-burner issue at this point.
Has Sankey considered giving up his spot on the NCAA committee on infractions because of time demands and potential conflict of interests?
There’s two questions in there. My workload, I’ve thought about giving up a lot of things with my workload, but I’ve become pretty effective managing that. From a conflict of interest standpoint, I’m recused when there’s a conflict of interest, any time an SEC school is involved, then I’m not involved in that. Others can have their perspective on what constitutes a conflict of interest, but I think people have shown confidence in me to make wise and informed decisions consistent with NCAA policy on matters that come before the committee.
Has Nick Saban been a pioneer in college football?
I’ve not evaluated that particular label, obviously Nick is very bright and very focused and has been innovative in any number of ways, but I think other coaching staffs have, as well. He’s increased the size of the overall football staff and that has obviously set up a little bit of a transition this week, for which they were prepared. I read a couple of articles about the different roles and behind-scenes support … that is is something we didn’t necessarily see 20 years ago. But I’ve not evaluated the word “pioneer.” Nick is very bright and is very effective, obviously.
Some would say Nick Saban has enhanced the arms race in college football …
I don’t put that on an individual.
Schools get a cut of league money, how do you keep pressure on schools to maintain stadiums at an SEC level, like Vanderbilt’s football stadium, for example.
We’re fortunate not to have those conversations. Our universities make those decisions on an independent basis.
How would you rate SEC football, especially in the bowl season?
I think every season in the Southeastern Conference is a special football season. Last year we were 9-2 in bowl games, this year we’re 6-6. I think we’ve gone 5-2 in the last seven of our games. We’re the only conference that has had 12 teams playing in bowl games, so there are a lot of dynamics, our teams have been competitive and I think we’ve had an outstanding season. We’ve got a game to play and we’ll see what happens there and how that defines our postseason.
How challenging is it to balance being proactive with maintaining what most view a successful status quo in the SEC?
I had the benefit of working in the office for 12 1/2 years before I became commissioner, which gives you a chance to make some notes and evaluate issues. If you look over the last 1 1/2 years, we’ve had pretty significant changes in the way we support men’s basketball, obviously that’s a sport we want to see competitive improvement. I think we’re seeing that. We introduced collaborative replay, we were the first to ask for that opportunity, and I think our system worked really well in football this year. We’ve got evidence to show that. We’ve engaged our student athletes in different ways. So those are three issues where I can identify quickly my perspective being a little bit different, and I think those have added to our conference and the experience of our student athletes and to our competition.
Have you taken umbrage to people saying the SEC has turned into a one-team league?
I don’t know that I would use the word umbrage, I don’t think that’s a fully-developed perspective, though. When you look at the competitive aspects through the year, or the competitive results, Alabama has gone undefeated, you can’t deny that. They’re not the first program to go undefeated through a conference season, and things change pretty quickly in football, and the ball can bounce different ways. Right now Alabama is on a great run of success and you have to recognize that and know our other programs are strong. We’ve seen improvement. We had three (SEC) Eastern teams make bowl games that haven’t made bowl games in recent years, I think that’s another step as we see those programs improve. We’ve had some coaching transition that has settled out a bit, as those new coaches increase their tenure and have their own recruits in. So all of that is an indicator that the conference overall is healthy and strong. What’s the standard we’ve set? Like four teams in the top five? So I can’t argue that one, and I don’t know about that standard on a regular basis.
Are you pleased with the four-team playoff?
The four-team playoff was established around a set of principles, and I’ve not see a variance in those principles. (inaudible) concerned about not moving further into the spring semester or at all, (and) we’ve got a regular season to honor and to promote and I think we’ve done those things very well. I think in the third year has produced an opportunity for the two best teams to eventually decide the national championship on the football field.
What is the status on the proposal for the addition of an assistant football coach, and what’s the conference’s position?
It’s part of a package around football recruiting, early signing, and it will be discussed again by the NCAA Division I council in April. We are forming a conference position. We have been consistently opposed to implementation of an early signing period. We’ll continue those discussions. There are other elements about summer camps, about changing dead periods, about when campus visits are made and we have some perspectives that we’ve communicated to our coaches and our coaches are communicating to us. I think you’ll see those positions develop even more specifically in the next couple of months. The American Football Coaches Association has a meeting this week where it will a topic of conversation, so I expect some perspectives to be shared.
It’s been positioned initially as all or nothing. I’m one who doesn’t think that’s the best position, and I hope as this goes forward that we can look at each of the elements of this package individually. We’re obviously doing it in this holistic conversation. I’m not clear why you introduce a football recruiting package, and then insert an additional assistant coach into that conversation. Those are very different issues.
Is there any discussion on adding two more teams to bring the SEC conference to 16?
We’re very happy with a 14-member conference.