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SEC Spring Meetings Off To Contentious Start

As expected, the SEC's Spring meetings in Destin have not been a dog-and-pony show, with several major issues up for discussion.

Incoming commish Greg Sankey inherited some tough issues.
Incoming commish Greg Sankey inherited some tough issues.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Graduate Transfers

Saban, among others, expressed concern that the SEC's present policies place the conference at a competitive disadvantage relative to other conferences. Graduate transfers, satellite camps immediately arose for Saban. And, with respect to transfers, he does seem to have a point. The SEC scrutinizes graduate transfers moreso than undergrad transfer.

The Baton Rouge Advocate explains the process best,

The rule requires transfers to have two years of eligibility remaining and a waiver for any player attempting to transfer after being disciplined at his previous school, as was the case for Golson.

It's not as though the transfer rule is iron-clad or even a particularly recent development. After Houston Nutt's Jeremiah Masoli stunt at Ole Miss, the rule was brought into the spotlight, to be sure, but it's an old by-law, one which Mike Slive intimates could fall away to bring the SEC in line with every other conference (though he took no stance himself.)

Outgoing SEC Commissioner Mike Slive didn’t come down on whether the conference should keep or change the rule, only that it’s a longstanding one. “We had the rule long before we got here,” he said. “We’ve lost sight of the fact it’s an old rule.”

Satellite Camps

Satellite camps certainly came up, as you'd expect, with Alabama's Nick Saban articulating the case against as best as I've seen:

Football satellite camp debate tackled at SEC spring meetings | Online Athens

"You know, we have a lot of crazy rules," he said. "A head coach is not allowed to go out during an evaluation period in the spring, but you can go have a satellite camp anywhere in the country to bring your staff in and bring players to it? Does that make any sense to anybody? So, I think we should have recruiting periods and evaluation periods, and the only time that you should be able to have camp is on your campus. And if the player is interested enough to come to a camp on your campus, then that should be the way it is. Alright? Now it’s not that way. It’s that way in our league."

Though the media makes this a Saban vs. the B1G issue, it's simply not. Every SEC coach polled had roughly the same feelings about hamstringing themselves and being placed at a competitive disadvantage.

Hugh Freeze,

“They’re not designed for the sole purpose of recruiting,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We wish everyone was the same as us.”

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, all-but signaling the conference will also exploit the loophole should the NCAA not act,

“There was a lot of conversation among our football coaches,” incoming SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “We don’t want to be on the sideline any longer if there’s not going to be a change….If that’s going to be the completive landscape we want to be fully engaged.”

Mark Richt,

“I guess it depends on if the rule changes in our league,” Richt said Tuesday at the SEC spring meetings at the Sandestin Hilton. “If we’re allowed to, I’m sure we will.”

In fact, despite the Saban vs. the World narrative is dead wrong. Jim McElwain has point-blank been the only one to say "hey, keep them out of our backyards if we can't travel."

“Selfishly, I’d like to keep them out of the state of Florida,” McElwain said. “Right now that’s what we’re dealing with as an SEC conference. What other people are taking advantage of us is those camp issues.”

Competitive imbalance

The effect of the two rules is such that SEC coaches generally feel as though it is at a competitive disadvantage and has been placed there by its own conference administration.

Nick Saban: SEC at 'disadvantage,' Power Five should play by same rules -

"If we're going to compete for the championship and everybody is going to play in the playoff system and everybody is going to compete for that, we need to get our rules in alignment so we're all on a level playing field, whether they're transfer rules, whether they're satellite camp rules," Saban said. "It's a disadvantage not to be able to do something in one league and be able to do it in another. It's a disadvantage to be able to recruit a player in one league and not be able to do it in another."

Nor was Saban alone in echoing the need for a completely uniform playing field. Saban understudy and new Gator head coach, Jim McElwain,

“I think in college football in general,” Florida coach Jim McElwain, “we need to make sure that we’re all playing on the same playing field.”

Hell, even Auburn is on the same page on this one.

Jay Jacobs calls for level playing field at SEC meetings

Jay Jacobs wants to make sure everyone will be on a level playing field in college athletics, and that's why the Southeastern Conference is considering proposals to limit recruiting satellite football camps and making sure the cost of attendance supplements to athletes reflect the true cost of every student.

The headlines, until then, will come from these proposals: Making the transfer rule for undergraduates the same as graduate students, a rule Auburn is in favor of; sending a proposal to the NCAA to limit football satellite camps, in which Auburn is definitely in favor of; and making sure the cost of attendance supplements to athletes cannot be manipulated, a proposal Auburn also supports.

Personal Conduct Policy

While all coaches got behind simple things such as enforcing the 50-yard buffer and making transfer policies uniform, other issues were not so simple. Chief among those was a proposed personal conduct policy which would prohibit intra-conference transfers for players kicked out of other programs for serious misconduct, such as assault, domestic violence and physical violence.

Details are sketchy on the Georgia-sponsored proposal.

Georgia proposes SEC ban transfers already booted for assault/domestic violence | Online Athens

This proposal would ask every SEC school to establish and maintain rules to monitor arrests and criminal activity by current players and recruits and to establish disciplinary standards for their players arrested. Georgia hopes the implementation would send a strong message that such behavior is unacceptable for those that play in the conference.

Nick Saban did make the case that it's not as cut and dry as a one-strike, one-size-fits-all policy.

"We shouldn't have any rules in the SEC that the other big time conferences don't have. … I'm not for it,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "It gives us an excuse to protect ourselves from any criticism for giving guys opportunities."

"Aren't we supposed to be a country where you get tried or you're guilty or innocent?" Saban asked. "As soon as a guy gets arrested who is an athlete, you try him in the media."

To date, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Georgia's Mark Richt are the only ones signaling their assent to a league-wide, blanket policy. But, as Dennis Dodd notes, and as Saban articulates, such a one-size policy again places SEC schools outside of the mainstream, where it would be the only conference prohibiting incoming transfers for these students and again places the conference at a competitive disadvantage

Will the SEC be a national leader in player personal conduct policy? -

In each case, it was up to the individual school. Ironically, if the SEC changed now, it would be rogue -- the only conference with a blanket conduct policy regarding transfers.

"These things need to be global," Saban said. "Otherwise we're going to become a farm system for all the other leagues.

Outgoing commissioner Mike Slive cites the NFL's difficulty in enforcing such a policy (one that will be made more legally onerous by the fact 13 of the 14 schools are state actors,) and suggests what I think will wind up being the outcome here; status quo,

So, it's certainly not been boring, and these are the stories we'll keep an eye on this week, as well as the forthcoming debate on independent medical monitors with player personnel decision-making.