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The SEC met in Destin this week and here is what Athlon Sports learned.
The SEC Meetings in Destin, Fla., every year normally bring very little in the way of news.
But with the NCAA and the SEC on the verge of sweeping reform as well as a new era of postseason football, the 2014 version was anything but boring.
Every topic from autonomy to NFL agents to spread offenses to beer sales to recruiting calendars to basketball schedules to the new playoff system was addressed and discussed at length.
In attendance were College Football Playoff czar Bill Hancock, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, athletic directors and 14 head coaches from around the game’s most powerful conference. So there was no shortage of interesting topics to seep out of the panhandle this week.
Here is what you need to know about the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin:
Autonomy leads the way
This is easily the biggest issue for commissioner Slive. The SEC boss is always calculating in his speech and the resounding theme of his visit in Destin this week was autonomy. He danced around other issues like an early signing period and scheduling, but his thoughts on self-governance for the Big 5 and Notre Dame is pretty clear.
“Today, we began the conversation about NCAA governance and restructuring, which I’ve said before, is the primary issue.”
In fact, he called it the “cornerstone of their discussions” this week. When Slive normally speaks, he does so very directly and there is no doubting his stance on the issue.
“The NCAA committee put forth a model and we are in the comment period. We will respond to it sometime after this meeting in preparation of the NCAA Board of Directors voting on a revised governance process in August,” Slive told the media in Destin.
Let’s be clear. This is going to happen. And it will impact things like the size of the coaching staff — there was a push for a 10th member of the staff this week — cost of attendance stipends, academic policies and player health coverage. This will be a sweeping change in the college football landscape and it’s going to happen. Be prepared.
Let’s control the agents
One of the biggest and most unifying concepts in college football today is the reformation of NFL agent policies. Nearly everyone agrees that something needs to be changed. Prospective employees (aka, the athletes) have a right to seek advice, build relationships and, for lack of a better term, interview prospective employers (aka, the NFL).
Slive agrees, "The NCAA's current rules are really part of the problem, not part of the solution." The SEC commish wants to provide “quality and timely advice” to his student athletes in all sports.
And there is no reason why there cannot be dead periods, signing periods and interview periods for current athletes and professional agents just like on the recruiting calendar. Instead of trying to fight a part of the process that will never go away and only gets all three parties into NCAA trouble, why not embrace it, monitor it and legislate it. It helps the agent, the school and the athlete. What could possibly go wrong?
“Unanimous” support for an early signing period
Or so said LSU head coach Les Miles. The reports from individual coaches don’t seem to be as “unanimous” as Miles has reported, however, most coaches in the SEC (and around the nation) are in favor of some sort of early signing period. The proposal from the SEC involves the Monday following Thanksgiving and only if a recruit hasn’t taken an official visit in the fall. Otherwise, said recruit will have to wait to sign two months later on National Signing Day. Garnering support from athletic directors and presidents is a totally different issue all together.
"I think we need to vet that out and see if the conference wants to change its position,” commissioner Slive said to reporters, “but up until now the SEC has been opposed to it."
The only time an early signing period works is after the regular season sometime. Coaches change jobs and players develop during their senior year, so a summer signing date would be nearly impossible to implement effectively and intelligently. This is likely still a few years away but could be coming quickly once autonomy is established for the bigger programs.
Florida really, really hates Georgia Southern
“We’re probably going to move forward without playing FCS opponents,” Florida coach Will Muschamp told reporters. While his athletic director Jeremy Foley may not fully agree with him, many people believe this is the overall direction of scheduling. And, no, it actually has nothing to do with the Gators' loss to an FCS opponent in 2013. It has everything to do with delivering a better quality product to the fans in the stands as well as the TV partners who pay billions to broadcast the games and eventually gaining value among the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Strength of schedule is going to continue to gain more importance as the Playoff moves forward and beating significantly inferior teams by 60 points will no longer garner favor with the postseason decision-makers. By nearly all empirical measures — with the exception of coaches trying to keep their jobs — scheduling tougher, better games is good for the sport. It’s good for the fans, good for the local businesses and economies, better for TV negotiations and makes your favorite team’s case for a playoff berth more substantial.
“I’m in favor of our strength of schedule being as good as it can be," Slive said.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban agrees, “No, we do not want to play those types of teams.”
Getting rid of FCS opponents — particularly from November, when the SEC seems to backload its schedule with horrible games — is the first step towards extensive schedule modification. The next step will be to eliminate “low-major” games before adding a ninth conference game and scheduling only Big 5 opponents.
Who doesn’t want to see the best face the best every single week?
No playoff expansion looming
Bill Hancock is the Executive Director of the College Football Playoff and he was in Destin this week to speak with coaches and ADs about how the Playoff Selection Committee will work, what the parameters will be moving forward in deciding the newly minted four-team postseason tournament and the future growth of the postseason. It’s great that decision makers, both on the sidelines and in the “front offices,” get to hear firsthand from Hancock what exactly the committee will be looking for when it comes to deciding the four teams who will earn postseason berths.
While those meetings were behind closed doors, Hancock did address publicly the potential for expansion — or the lack thereof.
“It is going to be four [teams] for 12 years,” Hancock said, according to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy. “There is no talk in our group about [expanding the playoff].”
While Hancock has been very firm with his statements about playoff expansion during the current 12-year contract with ESPN, there are many — like Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson — who believe that expansion is eminent.
There are two overriding reasons to believe expansion will happen before 2026. (A) The money will be astronomical and too great to pass up with expansion and (B) Those who get left out, be it a blue blood snuff or small school playoff-buster, are going to fight tooth and nail for the playoff to include more teams.
I lean towards expansion taking place well before ’26 rolls around.
Listen to a complete Playoff breakdown on this week's Cover 2 podcast:
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced this week that redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson will not be back with his program in fall. Rumors have swirled about why Ferguson is back home in North Carolina this week and why he won’t be back. The timing is certainly interesting and something tells me there is more to this story coming soon.
Ferguson was considered by many to be the best pure passer on the Vols' roster and his departure has cleared things up a bit in the Tennessee backfield. Now, Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs appear to be in a two-horse race for the reins of Mike Bajakian’s offense.
Alabama also lost a signal-caller this week as redshirt freshman Parker McLeod is set to transfer as well, according to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports. This one is much less surprising as the Bama backfield is very crowded and someone had to decide to try their luck elsewhere. McLeod, who hails from Marietta, Ga., was a three-star recruit and the 37th-ranked pro-style quarterback prospect in the nation by 247Sports' composite rankings (2013).
ShowMe what you got
The SEC basketball tournament schedule has been set through 2025 and there was one interesting twist in the announcement this week. The state of Missouri will play host to the tourney in 2018 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. This is a prime basketball area of the country and getting his tournament in front of a new audience was key for Slive and company in the SEC offices.
Additionally, the 2022 tournament will be headed to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Florida. It will be the second such event in Tampa as the 2009 championship was held there for the first time. Every other tournament between 2015 and 2025 will be held in Nashville.
Hoops scheduling gets a makeover
It’s not a huge change but fans should applaud the new basketball conference schedule that was announced this week. The SEC has done away with the 1-4-8 conference scheduling structure for a rivalry-supportive 3-2-8 format. So instead of one permanent home-and-home rivalry each year, schools will now get three such guaranteed home-and-homes. Instead of four rotating home-and-homes within the league, there will now be two. The eight home-OR-road games will still exist and will still rotate in the same manner as they have in the past. This is good news for programs that have more than one rival with in the league — say, like, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU, Alabama and Kentucky.