DESTIN, Fla. – Nick Saban, who contrary to perception does sometimes smile and make a joke, opened an SEC meetings press conference a couple years ago by doing just that.
“It always makes me nervous when there’s no issues,” said Alabama’s football coach. “Because then somebody creates one.”
This year’s version of the SEC meetings sets up that way too: No single overriding issue. So the question becomes whether the few smaller issues carry the day, or whether others (media, coaches) succeed in creating controversy.
Steve Spurrier won’t be here for the first time in a decade, so that doesn’t help the cause for controversy; a few people around the conference have joked about bringing Spurrier in just for that purpose. Of course, few would be surprised if Spurrier just showed up anyway.
Here’s a look at the expected main topics, both on the official agenda, and those that might come up anyway:
Preventing Baylor/Penn State scenarios
This isn’t on any official agenda, or wasn’t as of last week. But the Baylor scandal makes it certain that everyone – especially coaches — will be asked about it, and how to stop football from becoming a lawless program on campus. Tennessee has been dealing with its own situation — which so far has not reached anything close to Baylor-level — but football coach Butch Jones might have to address it.
The Ole Miss situation will also come up, but that involves old-school NCAA violations. It will be interesting to see if SEC commissioner Greg Sankey weighs in, or if Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze avoids the media Tuesday and Wednesday.
Satellite camps and the recruiting calendar
This was the main topic at last year’s meetings, when the SEC decided to put a one-year expiration date on its self-imposed ban on satellite camps, hoping the NCAA would outlaw them nationally. It did, only to rescind the ban, and now it’s the Wild West, with SEC teams joining camps left and right.
The SEC isn’t likely to see any official action taken on satellite camps this week; there isn’t much that can be done now that it’s been settled nationally. But it will come up as part of a larger discussion about the recruiting calendar, specifically how much time coaches have to spend on the road during time they’d rather be doing something else — like catching up with family.
Prediction: You’re going to hear a lot of SEC coaches mention this. For all their reputation as recruiting mavens, even the Nick Sabans and Kirby Smarts of the world have their limits.
Student-athlete time management
Speaking of free time, the lack of it for student-athletes is something that has also been getting a lot of attention, at least within the NCAA. The SEC likely won’t take any official action on this either, but Sankey and other administrators will bend over backwards to look sympathetic to athletes who think their time commitments are over-stretched these days.
For the first time ever, student-athletes are invited to Destin for these meetings, just to bring their perspective. They are:
Arkansas women’s tennis player Flavia Araujo, Ole Miss pitcher Brady Bramlett, former Mississippi State football player Jay Hughes, Tennessee women’s basketball player Diamond DeShields, and Texas A&M diver Marc Antoine.
The SEC has adopted a centralized replay system, or “collaborative,” as it puts it, where crews both on-site and in a centralized location will view replays and make decisions. It’s closer to the model used in Major League Baseball, the difference being MLB decisions are all made in New York.
Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator of officials, will elaborate on the plan when he meets with the media on Thursday. He is also expected to brief coaches on it earlier in the week.
Early signing period
This was the hot-button issue at SEC meetings two years ago – and frankly there’s been little movement since then. The SEC is fine with that, as it prefers the status quo: One signing day per year, the first Wednesday in February. The SEC proposed two years ago that if there is an early period it be just after Thanksgiving. That served to muddy the waters enough that nothing has happened nationally.
The topic is not expected to come up, as the conference would prefer it just go away. But it could come up organically.
The SEC has been here before: It only got three bids to the NCAA tournament, continuing a trend over the past decade in which the once-proud basketball conference has slipped into mediocrity. Take away Kentucky – especially with Billy Donovan gone from Florida – and you have a mid-major.
Sankey acted quickly after the season, hiring former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese to oversee any needed changes, while former associate commissioner for basketball Mark Whitworth departed.
Tranghese will meet with the basketball coaches for the first time in Destin. Expect the focus to be on big-picture talk, in terms of marketing programs, rather than talk about scheduling for NCAA resume purposes. Sankey, according to someone familiar with his thinking, wants to “widen the discussion.”
The conference is expected to announce a site for the SEC baseball tournament, which could be leaving its longtime home in Hoover, Ala.
Other hot-button topics – expansion, football scheduling, drug policies – are not on the official agenda. They could still come up, especially expansion, but only as a contingency: What could or should the SEC do if the Big 12 expands?
That discussion almost certainly will be kept behind closed doors. It would be surprising if Sankey or anybody reveals anything publicly. But you never know.