Commissioner Greg Sankey
The commish has definitely settled in now entering his third year at the head of the SEC. Gone were the sometimes-aggressive or defensive tones he struck during the first few media days. The lack of major offseason dust-ups undoubtedly has played a part. He hit the broad strokes of the conference as a whole in his prepared remarks:
- The conference celebrates its 50th anniversary of the SEC’s desegregation. It began with four players at Kentucky, including Wilbur Hackett, who would become the first black team captain for any SEC program and Nate Northington, the SEC’s first football player. The conference as a whole will celebrate it at the SECCG, and member institutions will undoubtedly celebrate it through out the season.
- For Alabama, Wendell Hudson with the Tide basketball program was the first black scholarship player to integrate the Crimson Tide.
- Collaborative replay has been a success. The SEC is looking at the prospect of expanding it to inter-conference games. The league is also looking into expanding replay in basketball and baseball.
- Speaking of expanding, a new Mon. night football program will be added at 7 ET with GMac and Marcus Spears. Additionally, the SEC-N will expand coverage into golf, swimming & diving, and tennis championships.
- Revenue is way up: the league’s distribution has gone from $131 million in 2008 to $639 million (and jumped from the $537 million in distributed just the last year.) However, eventually those revenues will stabilize, but for now enjoy the ride.
- SEC is looking at game length, but it’s largely cosmetic changes being proposed — be crisper coming out of media breaks, make the halftime as close to 20 minutes as possible, sense of urgency after scoring plays and the like. But, eliminating that 19th AFLAC or Good Hands commercial is off the table. Don’t expect these proposal to do much, if anything, to shorten game length.
- Realignment has never been an agenda item, and it’s not now (womp womp). This of course means that every media outline, including this one, will hammer realignment next offseason. #ClicksOnClicksOnClicks
- With respect to the LSU-Florida Hurricane Matthew kerfuffle, the league has taken informal wrangling out of the teams’ hands -- the league will now determine whether games will be played, etc.
- The SEC last year implemented a Student Advisory Council that has been a success getting input from student athletes for things like life skills training, job placement, NCAA rules and the like. It is actually going to be expanded. This is a fantastic program and I’d like to see it in other conferences. Speaking of student-friendly proposals, the SEC will now award graduation patches for student-athletes. During the past bowl season, 156 players from the SEC wore one, and now it’s part of the uniform. Again, I really like this. So many players come from non-traditional educational backgrounds and they are first generation college grads. A patch as an identification of their hard work is a small, but substantial, acknowledgement of the hard work all these kids put in.
- The NCAA at-large, and the SEC as a whole, are looking into expanding the season to 14 weeks, providing everyone with two bye weeks. This seems a very reasonable solution, given that snaps have increased such that players now are adding a full two games or more of snaps and collisions. The competing concerns are that coaches want the opportunity to have their 29 team events before the start of the season, but at the same time no one wants to start the practice season earlier -- many kids are trying to get eligible, others are in summer school at their institutions, and then there’s that matter of the already-compressed 6-week summer evaluation period. I’d be just as happy to see an 11-game season with two byes. It will never happen, but the number of snaps players see in a 12, 13, 14, 15-game schedule is a safety issue that has largely being poo-pooed as whining or otherwise grossly discounted -- and that’s reckless as hell given the strong association we have between sub-concussive head trauma and CTE.
- Sankey also emphasized the transfer work group. You can tell he plainly is unhappy with preconditioning financial aid on being tethered to a program. He understands the competing interests but believes that a determination and action on student transfers, particularly as to contact with, and the destination of, transferring students.
- Finally, the SEC’s first-in-the-nation personal conduct policy, prohibiting transfers of players with certain offenses in their past has been successful. To that, the SEC has also added a due diligence requirement on the part of programs -- wilful blindness won’t cut it.
Like Commissioner Sankey, Coach Bielema also seemed far less confrontational or snarky than usual. Most of his prepared remarks were commonsensical if you saw the Razorbacks play last season. Overall, the Hog head man was very upbeat though, as were the Hogs players. Many think this team can be a sleeper in the West, and that confidence is plainly trickling down.
- Not that he was happy with blowing a huge lead, but Bielema was happy that Arkansas’ loss in Mizzou last year helped stoke the rivalry some more. At least from his end, it seems like Arkansas is emphasizing this game and the growth of the rivalry as a win-win for the Hogs/Tigers and the conference as a whole. (Gee, if only someone had written about this very thing a few weeks ago.)
- Bielema is continuing his crusade to permit undrafted juniors to return to college without losing eligibility. Players are having to make so many major decisions, with bad or insufficient information, in order to meet the NFL’s compressed, largely arbitrary timetable. The issue, of course, is that both NSD periods occur well before the NFL Draft. Managing a roster, with the possibility of returning players would seem to impose a great deal of uncertainty, at best.
- Emphasized the strength of the SEC West quarterbacking, noting in particular that most teams, to some degree, run a spread. As such, there are so many different styles of quarterback a defense faces even its own division. He also lamented the lack of love for Arkansas players in preseason and postseason awards, particularly the excellent tandem of the Allen brothers at quarterback.
- The offensive line, after a dreadful 2016, has finally cohered and looks to be a more experienced physical unit than last season.
- He placed emphasis on the level of safety that is coached and observed in the SEC. It does not seem that there are teams that coached or play dangerously on a regular basis. With that, he entered into a very touching moment he shared with Rawleigh Williams in the hospital. Williams, a future NFL player, retired this Spring after suffering a second serious neck injury.
Da’ Coach O’s appearance was a bit unorthodox. He began with providing a two-deep of every unit, going into painful depth on seemingly every player on the roster and and personnel grouping, as well as incoming players. But, both his prepared remarks and answers make perfect sense when viewed through a lens of promotion of LSU, Louisiana, and as a recruiting pitch, especially to in-state kids.
- The quarterback position is still open, including to newly-signed freshmen. For now, Danny Etling has the inside track and would be the starter as of today. New OC Matt Canada can tailor offenses and work with both drop-back and dual-threat guys. Still, I’d be surprised if it’s anyone but Etling that plays.
- No matter the quarterback, the offense will revolve around Derrius Guice who made some waves by saying that Alabama was afraid of LSU last season...for rushing the passer and playing run defense. He also said Alabama loaded the box, when, as we’ve seen the past two seasons, that did not happen.
- The Tigers had to replace five of its front seven, and lost half of their secondary and their top four tacklers. LSU brought in two transfers to shore up the secondary, and they are looking to possibly fill starting roles. Arden Key is returning at some point. He took Spring off for personal reasons and is now recovering from a shoulder issue. When he returns is still up in the air.
- Three starters return on the offensive line, however, William Clapp is being moved from guard to center.
- The receiving corps returns two tight ends and D.J. Chark. Otherwise there are a lot of questions and unproven guys to catch balls.
- He plainly understands that “the LSU head coach has to beat Alabama.” He doesn’t think the divide is that great, pointing to two plays made by Hurts late in the game and the scoreless first three quarters. He makes the obvious point that to beat Alabama you have to protect the passer, spread the ball around, and negate the Tide defensive line — and he pointed to recruiting and scheming as the way to do that. In other words, expect an airshow in Tuscaloosa this year.
- Finally, when pressed on his efforts to lock other schools out of Louisiana camps, Orgeron largely dodged the issue. He instead expressed his displeasure with satellite camps and noted that kids aren’t being unnoticed in this day and age of recruiting. Above all, he said, his first job is to protect and defend Louisiana recruiting. Easier said than done, of course.
- Sadly, he did not rise to the bait when Trollmaster Mike Bianchi tried to bring up the Hurricane Matthew brouhaha.
If there was anyone with a disconnect between results and unwarranted optimism it was Jones. Gone were the coach-speak platitudes he’s mastered. In retrospect, with his puffery and egregious abuse of adjectives, I almost wish he had kept them.
- He said (inexplicably) that last year’s 9-4 campaign, in which there were losses to Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and in which UT was a preseason Top-10 team with 20 returning starters, was not a disappointment, just that the team fell short of expectations. Man, Tennessee fans are not going to want to hear that -- you’d hope that falling flat would elicit some fire in Jones, but largely his shtick was salesmanship: of Vawl academics, of the Peyton Manning connection, of Phil Fulmer’s new role in the athletic department looking over his shoulder every second. It was just weird. And it was made weirder by the Great Value Sonny Corleone suit he was wearing. It was a whole lot of swagger and salesmanship, and probably none of it earned at this point in his Volunteers career.
- The Vols surprisingly return seven starters on both side of the ball, but gone is a senior QB, practically every playmaker at each level of the defense, and two stud running backs. The coaching staff also has to integrate five new faces, fully half the staff.
- The offensive line has gelled a great deal. A lot more is expected of this unit this year. The defensive line, though young, has stepped up its leadership after an abysmal year where the Vols couldn’t stop a head cold on the ground in 2016.
- The Vols’ main challenges he identified were in managing expectations, playing to a standard, developing quality depth. The latter was noticeable last year. Jones was very politick, but he nevertheless intimated that the younger guys or guys with fewer snaps weren’t ready to step in and step up when the Vols had players go down -- and, man, they had a ton of injuries.
- Two interesting things of note with the offense. First, John Kelly is obviously the feature back. But, Butch signaled that he wants to platoon more this season. The second thing of note is that that the quarterback depth is outstanding, and “if two players have earned playing time, then” both guys will play. Whether this means that a two-QB system is on the horizon is debatable, but Jones does have a history of doing so and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.
- Finally, the Vols have a brutal opening stretch: Tennessee plays three games in just 13 days, including the CFA Kickoff in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. Booger McFarland predicts the wheels fall off this year after spending time with the team and the players this offseason. If it does, we’ll know early in the season whether Butch Jones’ 5th year is his last.
We’ll be back tomorrow with our comprehensive and (humbly, I dare say,) best-in-the-nation coverage of SEC Media Days. Tomorrow’s slate is SEC-East heavy, but
weird-ass Dan Mullen is scheduled to speak, as is the SEC’s director of officiating, Steve Shaw.