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Friday, June 4, 2010

SEC Meetings: Day 4 Wrap-Up

Friday’s final day of meetings between the SEC’s presidents and athletics directors finally focused heavily on the hottest topic of the week, but even after the stakes appeared to get higher around the country, commissioner Mike Slive still wasn’t changing his tune on expansion.

“We discussed it as you would expect us to discuss it, and we’re not going to say anything more than I’ve said all along, so there’s really nothing more I can add,” Slive said.

What Slive has maintained for weeks is that the SEC will watch what happens around the country and isn’t likely to act proactively by pursuing expansion, remaining – as Slive reiterated often – “strategic and thoughtful.”

That means the SEC could move to add teams should the Pac-10 or Big Ten make significant additions in the coming days or weeks, or, Slive said, it could mean the SEC does nothing at all.

“It’s just designed to say that we have maximum flexibility to how we approach this issue,” he said.

Reports surfaced this week that the Pac-10 could extend invitations to as many as six Big 12 schools, with Texas A&M also reportedly having some interest in moving to the SEC. Emails from Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee revealed this week by the Columbus Dispatch seemed to indicate the Big Ten was wooing Texas, and Missouri’s president said he wouldn’t rule out a move – either to the Pac-10 or Big Ten. Several other athletics directors and presidents in the Pac-10 and Big 12 went on record indicating they believed discussion on expansion were ongoing.

All of that remains speculation, however, and Slive said he has been hearing rumors for weeks and has no idea of a potential timetable on expansion in any conference.

Should expansion talks ignite, however, Slive said it would require the approval of nine of the SEC’s school presidents to admit a new institution, and in doing so, there could be the potential of also renegotiating some of the league’s media contracts.

But while large-scale expansion – including potential 16-team superconferences – remains the hottest topic in college football among fnas and media, Slive said he doesn’t have reason to believe things are moving so quickly behind the scenes.

“It’s a concept I think comes more from outside,” Slive said. “I’ve never heard the conversation that there was a need or a drive to get a bunch of superconferences.”

Without exception, the SEC’s presidents and athletics directors seemed to tow the company line on expansion.

“If it’s moving forward and expanding what we’re doing as far as adding new members, if that’s the way to maintain where we are, I think the commissioner will have a keen sense of what the right time is on that,” said Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin. “If it’s standing pat, I think we’re all pretty comfortable with what we have as a league right now.”

Georgia president Michael Adams declined comment on the issue completely Friday, saying he had agreed with other presidents that only Slive would discuss expansion publicly. A day earlier, however, Adams expressed his hope that the league would be patient in its approach.

“There’s a pretty strong sense among the 12 presidents and the commissioner right now that the SEC is in the best shape it’s ever been,” Adams said. “So we feel pretty good about things. If the landscape changes then we’ll analyze it, but I don’t believe we have to do anything.”

BIG INCREASES IN REVENUE

The SEC’s new television deal with ESPN has already had a huge impact on the league’s bottom line.

The conference announced Friday that it would distribute $209 million in revenues between its 12 member institutions – an average of about $17.3 million per school – which represents a nearly 58 percent increase from last year’s payout.

“It’s an extraordinary growth and it’s just gratifying to see the change,” Slive said.

The additional revenue comes in large part from the deal with ESPN, with the SEC generating $109.5 million in total television revenue for football alone. The league earned $26.5 million from bowls, $14.5 million from the SEC football championship game, $30 million from basketball television coverage, $5 million from the SEC basketball tournament and $23.5 million from NCAA championships.

In addition to the revenue distributed by the SEC, schools also earn significant payouts from retained bowl revenue – a total of about $14 million – and local media packages, which in Georgia’s case is valued at more than $10 million annually.

“The total revenue that the conference is able to provide is what it distributes here with what’s retained by our institutions from bowl games and the amount they can realize in their local packages,” Slive said. “So if you add all that up, the total is really quite substantial.”

ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS STIFFEN

The league’s presidents approved legislation that would up the minimum credit hours required for football players to pass from six to nine, and while a final resolution on the matter has yet to be made, Georgia athletics director Damon Evans said he expects the new rule to be enacted by the 2011 season.

“It’s appropriate,” Evans said. “That’s what they’re in school for. And when you set an expectation in front of student-athletes, they normally meet it.”

The rule would force all football players to pass at least nine credit hours during the fall semester or face a four-game suspension to start the next season. Still at issue, Evans said, was whether an addendum could be added to allow the suspension to be reduced should the player meet certain academic requirements during the following spring or summer sessions.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said he didn’t envision any rule change affecting his team and was not opposed to the tougher standards.

“The young men, once they know what they’ve got to do, they’re going to do it,” Richt said. “If they think six is all they need, some of them, that’s what they’ll get. If they’ve got to get nine, they’ll get nine. I’ve got a feeling if it does come into play, everybody’s going to rise to the occasion.”

The concern from some athletics directors, however, would be that the increased standards would lead to more athletes trying to find ways to skirt the rules in order to avoid a suspension.

“I worry about the unintended consequences of something like that,” said Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin. “We’ve got a lot of qualifiers in place that you have to hit, and I don’t know that adding another one to that is going to move the needle.”

GOTTA HAVE MORE COWBELL

Mississippi State successfully defended its tradition of ringing cowbells in the stands on game day, but Stricklin said his fans now need to learn to “ring responsibly.”

A move to eliminate the cowbells as artificial noise, which is currently outlawed by the SEC, was put on hiatus for at least one year, with the conference agreeing to allow the Bulldogs’ fans to ring the cowbells only during designated times during the game – a move that comes with the approval of Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.

“We might not have the biggest stadium in the league, and I know we don’t have the loudest stadium in the league,” Mullen said. “We have cowbells, but we could try to pump in noise the way some other people do through speaker systems. But we don’t have the loudest stadium in the league, so I don’t think that’s an advantage for us.”

Fans will only be allowed to use the cowbells during timeouts, following scores and before and after each quarter. The exception to the artificial noise rule will run out at the end of the season, however, and the issue will be revisited at next year’s meetings.

“The other ADs were understanding of the challenge with the existing policy, and I think that’s why they are giving this a try,” Stricklin said. “I’m appreciative of that. We have a chance to communicate and educate our fans that, if this tradition is really important, you have to learn to be responsible.”

Georgia travels to Mississippi State on Sept. 25, and Richt said he’s not concerned about the cowbells – regardless of when they’re being used.

“Almost every place we play, it gets loud enough to where you can’t operate unless you’re using hand signals and silent snap counts,” Richt said. “To me, once it’s so loud – it doesn’t matter if it’s super loud or just loud. You still have to make adjustments.”

GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

Several school presidents, including South Carolina’s Harris Pastides, expressed concern this week over the rising salaries of assistant coaches.

“The problem is I would like you to be restrained if you’re Alabama, if you’re Tennessee,” Pastides told The (Columbia, S.C.) State. “But do I want to be the first one to let my coach go when you’re offering him more money?”

The Gamecocks recently gave defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson earned a 50 percent pay increase this offseason, upping his salary to $700,000 a year. Three other assistants – LSU’s John Chavis, Alabama’s Kirby Smart and Mississippi’s Tyrone Nix parlayed potential job offers from other schools into large offseason raises as well.

Georgia’s new defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, landed a three-year contract worth $750,000 annually – more than double what his predecessor, Willie Martinez, was making. While that marks a substantial shift in expenses for the football staff, Evans said he thought the salaries being garnered by some assistants were warranted, assuming the schools could afford the expenditure.

“From my point of view, I don’t have any concern,” Evans said. “You have to do what you think you can handle as an institution. But each institution needs to be careful not to put themselves in a precarious situation when it comes to salaries, and to make sure they can handle that amount of money.”

LET'S CELEBRATE

SEC head of officials Rogers Redding met with coaches this week to discuss the league’s tougher penalties for taunting, which if flagged before the completion of a play could now result in an overturned touchdown.

While the rule has met with some criticism, LSU coach Les Miles is a fan, despite admitting he had yet to view any video from the league demonstrating what it would consider illegal celebrations.

“I think it’s the right thing,” Miles said. “If a guy is wildly taunting an opponent before he goes into the end zone, it’s a spot foul and 15 yards is marked from there. I think it’s a great rule.”

NO CHANGE TO TOURNEY

The league’s basketball coaches discussed changes to the seeding of the SEC tournament, but decided to table the issue for further study before a vote was taken.

“(The coaches) discussed the current process and maybe a single division vs. reseeding as another option, and they thought they wanted to continue to study it and did not create a recommendation to the athletics directors,” Slive said. “So at least in the coming year there will not be a change.”

Georgia coach Mark Fox was among the coaches who wasn't ready to form an opinion on potential changes without more study, but he said that changes should be made down the road.

“I do think, especially with the conference tournament, seeding it one through 12 would be a healthy thing to do," Fox said. "I think there’s some merit to doing that for the tournament. It makes things a little more balanced and fair for those teams that had great regular seasons.”

Currently the top two teams in each division earn a bye in the first round of the tournament.

STAYING IN THE ATL

There was some discussion during the league’s meetings about moving the SEC baseball tournament, but Slive said there isn’t much likelihood the same could happen for football, which plays its championship game each year at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

“Hypothetically there’s always a chance for something, but the game is extraordinarily successful for us and we have, at this point, absolutely no intention of moving it out of Atlanta,” Slive said.

NO EARLY SIGNING DAY

No progress was made on attempts to institute an early signing period for high school football players, with both coaches and athletics directors firmly against the idea.

“Our position is that we still oppose it. Our coaches opposed it and our A.D.s opposed it,” Slive said.

BAMA STILL WAITING

Slive said he remains hopeful a solution can be found for a quirk in Alabama’s schedule that has the defending national champs playing six games against teams coming off a bye week.

Still, Slive admitted, it will be an uphill battle to rectify the problem this season. Instead, Slive touted the changes made to avoid similar issues in the future.

“A new plan has been put into place so that the issue won’t exist in the next 10-year cycle starting in (2012) and we’ve made some adjustments in 2011,” Slive said. “So what we really have left is to see if we can do anything in 2010. It’s not easy at this point in the game.”

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

There were video boards around the Hilton announcing what room each meeting would be held in through the day -- along with information on other events at the hotel. By far the best -- and I'm not making this up -- was the Pizza/Head wedding rehearsal. If I were that bride, I'd definitely be hyphenating my last name.

2 comments:

Texas_Dawg said...

Steele is wrong. UGA has 159 returning starts:

CDavis (37)
Boling (36)
BJones (23)
Glenn (23)
Anderson (16)
Sturdivant (14)
JDavis (10)

Also, I'm not sure where he is getting Tennessee with 13 returning starts. I had them at 0 (and I totaled up every NCAA team's returning OL starts as well). He might be including Aaron Douglas (10 starts) who recently left the team.

Texas_Dawg said...

My bad. The above post was meant as a response to the recent OL starts post.

As for Slive and his not pursuing expansion, he is either lying to the press (nothing wrong with that and something Richt and all smart leaders do all the time) or a complete idiot who should be fired (for doing nothing while A&M and OU are clearly up for grabs).

I think Slive is smart and knows what he's doing and has teams aggressively working A&M and OU behind the scenes (while he plays dumb with the media so as to not step on any toes).