SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told CBS Sports on Tuesday that his league has asked the NCAA to block Michigan’s planned attempt to hold part of its spring practice in Florida this year.
This makes the SEC look silly.
Sankey was quoted by Dennis Dodd of CBS as suggesting his concern about Michigan’s spring practice — and the multitude of other programs that would inevitably copy the Wolverines — is based around the premise that traveling to Florida would put additional time demands on players who already have full schedules. Sankey apparently just doesn’t want to further burden student-athletes.
Just a guess, but it’s seriously doubtful many Michigan football players would complain about spending part of their spring in Florida. Have you been to Michigan in the spring? That’s a trick question because there is no spring in Michigan. It still snows there in April. Who’d want to be stuck in that when Florida is the alternative?
What Sankey’s protest is really about — of course — is recruiting, for the SEC to pretend otherwise is undignified. The conference’s coaches are concerned that Michigan and its high-profile coach Jim Harbaugh’s presence in what is essentially their backyard will attract attention and draw recruits out of the South.
To a certain extent, that’s probably what would happen. But so what?
The fans of the SEC like to brag that this league is the toughest in the country, and that toughness is put on display on National Signing Day like no other time of year as its schools engage in something resembling hand-to-hand combat against each other for the region’s best players. For most of the country, the SEC just plays too rough when it comes to recruiting, but Harbaugh sees these tactics and has decided he wants to play rough too.
The SEC’s response to Harbaugh is to run and tell the teacher.
This conference should be better than that. A league which built its success on aggressive recruiting practices shouldn’t decide to hide under the bed because some carpetbagger from up North joins the fray.
Of course, there’s also a practical concern for SEC coaches when it comes to Harbaugh’s planned invasion of Florida. The coaches know their biggest advantage is the league’s geography. The South produces the most talent, and most players prefer to play close to home. Allowing Harbaugh into SEC Country has the potential to sacrifice some of the league’s “home field advantage” in recruiting — especially since there wouldn’t be much value in SEC programs traveling up to the Midwest for the same kind of events.
However, proximity to a home cooked meal shouldn’t be the only thing the SEC has to sell to recruits. This is a conference that is presumably filled with some of the best coaches in the sport, and definitely is home to the most festive game day atmospheres. Commissioner Sankey ought to be confident that those credentials are enough to beat Harbaugh on the recruiting trail, and that his league doesn’t need any kind of special protection from the NCAA.
As it stands now, the SEC’s response to Harbaugh also makes the conference look lazy. This league has clearly enjoyed unprecedented success, and maybe that success has made some within the league a little “fat and happy.”
Harbaugh has noticed this and has simply asked: Is the conference that worked so hard to reach the pinnacle of college football willing to work just as hard to stay there?
That seems like a pretty fair question.