Seth Emerson commentary: Winners and losers from the SEC meetings

semerson@ledger-enquirer.comJune 5, 2011 

DESTIN, Fla. -- The SEC meetings in this beach resort town used to be an intimate event. A few reporters would mill about and have informal conversations with coaches and league officials.

This year, they had to distribute credentials. And when commissioner Mike Slive met with the media Friday, he was at a podium in a conference room.

“Normally, I’d just sit down there and chat with you,” he said. “But I think there’s interest in at least one particular topic.”

The over-signing debate, which Slive alluded to, dominated the week. But it was an eventful SEC meetings all around: The over-signing vote, Steve Spurrier’s pay-for-play proposal, the elimination of men’s basketball divisions, coaches being run down in hotel hallways, and more.

Here’s who benefited and who did not:

WINNERS

Mike Slive: The commissioner is unassuming and open. But behind the scenes, he is a calculating consensus-builder not afraid to tweak the powerful coaches in his league. Slive got his way on the roster management legislation, just two days after the football coaches voted against the key provision to limit football signing classes to 25 players.

The presidents were a driving force too, especially Florida’s Bernie Machen. But Slive reinforced his position as one of the most powerful -- though understated -- people in college sports.

The Georgia-Florida axis: It was strange watching the presidents of the two schools walking together to the final SEC presidents meeting Friday. But it was appropriate. Machen and Georgia’s Michael Adams were vocal proponents of cutting down on over-signing and grayshirting. They largely won the day too.

SEC men’s basketball: Division play never made much sense for this league, other than keeping the schedule simple. The NCAA tournament selection committee basically ignored it: Three years ago, they left out South Carolina, despite the Gamecocks sharing the SEC East title; and this year, Alabama was omitted despite running away with the SEC West.

The impact of eliminating divisions might be negligible when it comes to NCAA bids. But in terms of fairness -- tournament seeding and parity in scheduling -- the league took a step forward.

Steve Spurrier: Maybe it was a stunt. Maybe South Carolina’s Head Ball Coach was trying to distract from the over-signing proposal (which he would be on the losing side of) or the Stephen Garcia situation (where he can’t win either way). But the stunt worked, garnering Spurrier attention, which he still loves, and plaudits from national commentators.

That’s not to say Spurrier doesn’t believe in what he proposed. He has a liberal social streak, as evidenced by his shot at the Confederate flag a few years ago. His motivation was altruistic and selfish.

More cowbells: Mississippi State again won the right to continue its tradition of ringing cowbells. This came even though Slive said the rule against noise at specific times was violated at the first two MSU games. But even Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, whose team lost in Starkville last October, said: “Coach Richt would tell you that’s not the reason we lost that game. He’s told me that.”

Bobby Petrino: The Arkansas football coach has taken shots for being an over-signer and not having any charisma. But give him credit for his interview Tuesday, when he explained why he over-signs and wondered aloud why Ohio State was allowed to play its suspended five players in the Sugar Bowl. It was a good week for Petrino to remind everyone of that.

LOSERS

Football coaches: Who knows whether the vote really was unanimous. But they resisted the limit on 25 signees and were overruled by their presidents. That’s not to say they won’t return to being more powerful and popular by Monday. But they were reminded who is really boss on their campuses.

Nick Saban: The Alabama football coach looked petulant before the vote, when he seemed to blame the media for the controversy. “You think you’re helping them, but you’re really going to hurt them,” he said to reporters who had followed him to a hotel elevator.

Saban looked weaker when the vote went against the coaches and Slive announced the presidents’ vote was unanimous. The meeting was closed, so you have to take Slive’s word for it.

Houston Nutt: The presidents indirectly took two swipes at the Mississippi football coach. The obvious one was over-signing, because he signed 37 players in 2009 to become -- as one reporter said to Nutt -- the “poster boy” for the practice. But the presidents also voted to eliminate the graduate school exemption, less than a year after Jeremiah Masoli used that to transfer to Mississippi and play right away for Nutt. Masoli wasn’t the first one to exploit the rule, but it apparently was the last straw for SEC presidents.

Dan Mullen: The Mississippi State football coach compared the effort to crack down on cowbells with the poisoning of the Toomer’s Corner trees at Auburn. Hopefully, an adviser told Mullen not to make the comparison again.

Graduate students: One of the unexpected, and potentially backward, decisions by the SEC was to eliminate the graduate school exemption for transfers. No longer – after the current cycle – will players be able to transfer in to SEC teams and play immediately if they have graduated from their prior institution.

Slive said the change was made because it had moved from being an academic incentive to an athletic loophole. Maybe so, as witnessed by the Masoli transfer. But the benefit of encouraging athletes to pursue graduation, and then rewarding them for it, would seem to be greater.

Seth Emerson, semerson@ledger-enquirer.com

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