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Jumbo Package: 2024 SEC schedule set, Saban and Sankey head to Washington DC

Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl Classic-Cincinnati at Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, everyone. As you know, the softball team went down in flames as Jaala Torrence’s remarkable postseason filling in for injured star Montana Fouts ran off the rails against Tennessee. The ladies play tonight on ESPN at 6pm CT, in their first elimination game vs. Stanford. With one loss already on the books, they have to win every game now to stay alive.

Meanwhile, the baseball team opens regional play tonight, also at 6pm on ESPN+.

Alabama listed Holman as the probable in its preview. Nicholls’s probable starter is Jacob Mayers, the Southland Freshman of the Year. He holds a 9-1 record with a 1.93 ERA.

Earlier on Thursday, interim coach Jason Jackson did not disclose his pitching plans but joked that Holman, who was seated next to him, would be involved.

Holman was the pitcher scratched from Game 1 of the LSU series with back soreness. It was the same game that turned up suspicious activity on bets placed in Ohio.

Alabama won’t play a postseason game without mention of the betting scandal, but thus far they have been quite resilient.

At the SEC Spring Meetings, a one year temporary schedule was set for 2024.

The eight games will be randomly assigned based on “fairness and balanced,” according to commissioner Greg Sankey, who added that consideration will be given to traditional rivalries, such as Alabama vs. Auburn and Florida vs. Georgia.

Beyond the eight conference games, SEC teams will be mandated to play at least one nonconference Power Five opponent from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 (or a major independent) in 2024. Fifteen of 16 programs already have such game scheduled; Oklahoma previously agreed to a series with Georgia that was canceled once the Sooners joined the conference.

Alabama plays Wisconsin up in Madison that season, so the ninth Power Five game requirement isn’t an issue.

Greg Sankey does not want to hear your criticism over kicking this can down the road.

“I think it’s another step forward. It’s incremental, and we’re going to continue the work towards the future. I also know that the leadership position also weighs on this, and just walking away from a wholesale set of games is a point of conversation. We appreciate the help of our relationships across Division I and want to be attentive to that ... Big picture, it’s an appropriate step.”

“Over time, we won’t be shying away from anything. We just didn’t add another game during a period of transition. If you’re that impatient, I’m glad you’re not running a conference. We’re going to use the ability to look deeply at how we walk through issues, how we deal with change around the (College Football) Playoff, how we impact our media partner in a positive way, how we think about non-conference scheduling ... Back in 2020 I didn’t decide quickly enough, they said. We thrived, and we will continue to thrive.

No, you’re holding out for more cheddar from ESPN, Greg. Surely you don’t think we’re that stupid.

Josh Heupel chose not to make any waves when asked whether TSIO should continue.

“I think one of the things that’s unique at Tennessee … is the number of opponents that different generations of fans will point to as the game,” Heupel said. “We don’t have a true trophy game, (but) instate Vandy; Kentucky, border war; Georgia, Florida, Alabama.

“Those are all big games for our fan base. But, the Alabama game, … it’s a huge part of our schedule and the tradition of Tennessee football.”

Like many coaches here, Heupel wouldn’t stump for a particular schedule format.

Asked whether he’d like to play Alabama every year, he didn’t say yes. He didn’t say no, either.

“I want to play the best games that we possibly can, every single year,” Heupel said, “against the biggest and best brands.”

Nick Saban is headed to Washington DC next week to meet with lawmakers around NIL legislation.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is among a group of SEC coaches and administrators set to visit with lawmakers in Washington D.C. next week. The convoy is expected to vouch for federal regulation regarding name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation among college athletes, the AP reports. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey will join Saban at the forefront of the group that includes university presidents, athletic directors and lobbyists.

An SEC-hosted reception for lawmakers and congressional staffers is planned for June 7 before the SEC contingent meet individually with congressional members from states within the conference’s footprint on June 8.

If you’re unclear on why Saban has been screaming about an uneven playing field, it has everything to do with state laws.

New state laws adopted in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma clear a path for their schools to bring NIL programs more under their proverbial roof while also prohibiting enforcement from the NCAA and others. This new evolution of NIL collectives tests NCAA and SEC governorship, risks federal rules violations and, maybe most important, pushes college sports another step closer to what many believe is an eventuality: Schools paying athletes directly.

And yet, despite the obvious issues, the movement is sweeping across the Southeast footprint with SEC speed.

“It reminds me of a rigged marketplace,” says Julie Sommer, a lawyer and expert on NIL matters who works for the Drake Group, an organization whose mission is to defend academic integrity at universities. “Federally funded institutions running these enterprises for private gain? The first big question is, what’s the IRS going to do?”

At this point, Saban is advocating for the players to be treated as employees and allowed to unionize. The line between NIL and pay for play has gone from blurry to nonexistent, and Nick isn’t the only coach screaming for guardrails.

Suspended freshman safety Tony Mitchell is returning to football, though playing time may be hard to come by this year with Jaylin Key in the fold next to Caleb Downs.

Mitchell is likely to join Alabama’s College Recovery and Intervention Services, his lawyer Waylon Graham told last month. The program is offered to UA students and provides counseling, among other things. Mitchell was an early enrollee in January and spent the last few months working out on his own while attending classes.

“It’s been a long process. Terrible for the family, but we’ll see past it,” Tony Mitchell Sr. said on May 12. “The comeback will be great.”

ESPN is going to continue to hype Alabama vs. Texas for obvious reasons.

Texas at Alabama (7 p.m. ET, Sept. 9 on ESPN/ESPN App). The dynamics for both teams entering this year’s matchup in Tuscaloosa are fascinating. Alabama needs to catch Georgia and reclaim its spot atop the college football kingdom, while sorting out a quarterback situation that added a layer with Tyler Buchner’s transfer from Notre Dame. Texas enters its final year in the Big 12 without a CFP appearance and no conference titles since 2009. Coach Steve Sarkisian needs to deliver the results that match his playcalling and recruiting prowess. Texas largely outplayed Alabama last year before Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young saved the day. A road win for the Longhorns would put them squarely on the CFP radar and create more angst around Nick Saban and Alabama. A convincing Alabama win would propel the team into SEC play, where the home schedule (Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU) favors the Tide. — Adam Rittenberg

Erik mentioned yesterday that NDSU transfer big man Grant Nelson was set to visit Tuscaloosa. Nate Oats is reportedly pursuing another big bodied transfer as well.

Kaluma improved his numbers across the board this past season at Creighton, averaging 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds and shooting 31.1% from 3-point range after putting up 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a freshman. He scored in double figures in all four of the Bluejays’ NCAA tournament games, including a first-round win vs. NC State in which he had 10 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists.

He’s been at his best in the postseason, getting 24 points and 12 rebounds vs. Kansas in the second round of the 2022 NCAA tournament in what perhaps was the best performance of his career thus far.

Kaluma is only listed at 6’7” but he’s a stout 225 lbs. and attacks the boards with max effort as his stat lines would suggest.

Last, the Big 12 is making a desperation play to remain a basketball power as the football brand walks out the door with Texas and Oklahoma, while the Pac 12 seemingly falls apart.

Put yourself in the position of Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, or Colorado. Would you agree to that deal when you are receiving interest from the Big 12? Especially considering the money might be less to stay in the Pac-12. Sure, staying with two coveted brands has its merits. But mortgaging your future with Oregon and Washington could come with catastrophic long-term consequences. Especially if the Ducks and Huskies are hesitant to sign a long grant-of-rights. The Big 12 is interested in those four schools today, but that doesn’t mean they will be interested in those schools in five to 10 years from now. A more secure future in the Big 12 looks more and more enticing with each passing month without a Pac-12 tv deal in place. If one of the four-corner schools gets paranoid, they might opt for the more secure future in the Big 12. If the national reports are any indication, Colorado is the closest to leaving before a Pac-12 tv deal is signed.

Amid the college football expansion and conference realignment talk this offseason, the Big 12 has taken center stage with what appear to be ambitious expansion plans, and now another school has moved into the league’s zone of interest as Gonzaga has emerged as a new candidate for membership, according to SI.

Negotiations with Gonzaga about potential membership in the Big 12 are expected to be one of the biggest subjects of conversation for the conference as it meets for the annual spring meetings, as the Big 12 is engaged in “deep discussions” with the school, which wants to make a move out of the West Coast Conference into the Power Five.

Gonzaga doesn’t even field a football team, and the conference has also engaged in discussions with UConn who has a bad football program that currently competes as an independent. The two schools are about 2,700 miles apart and each is some 1,500 miles from the heart of the Big 12 footprint.

Makes perfect sense.

That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.

Roll Tide.