The past year in college sports, especially in football, has been dominated by off-field events. SEC commissioner Mike Slive has had to navigate a number of those issues.
Slive spoke this week as the SEC prepares for its annual meetings in Destin, Fla. (May 31-June 3). Judging from Slive’s comments, it will be a busy four days.
The commissioner addressed several of the year’s hot-button issues: the practice of over-signing, the BCS, changing the SEC basketball tournament, the Cam Newton controversy and its impact on the SEC’s image, and more.
But the interview with Seth Emerson opened with the latest off-field event: The tornado that brought devastation to Tuscaloosa, Ala., an hour’s drive from the SEC office in Birmingham.
The tornado What kind of things has the SEC office and its schools been able to do to help things?
Myself, I was in New Orleans for BCS meetings, just keeping track, my daughter and her husband were here (in Birmingham), my wife was with me, but our home was here. We were blessed that nothing happened to our family. But as soon as we got home, I called Mal (Moore, the Alabama athletic director), and Mal met us on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa and gave my family and I a look at the devastation.
It was so overwhelming. It was actually mind-numbing. It was hard for your mind to come to grips with what your eyes were seeing.
Our athletic directors were getting together that same weekend, and our league made the decision very quickly to send $500,000 to Alabama to aid in the disaster. So it was very gratifying to have a response like that from our league. We have a tradition of helping; when Katrina hit we sent $1 million to LSU, Mississippi and Mississippi State to help them in dealing the issues that they had. So the crucibles of competition burn brightly in our league, but when disaster strikes part of our family we come together in a significant way. I was very proud of our league.
A year ago the big issue entering SEC meetings was conference expansion. Does that seem quaint now compared to everything that’s happened off the field?
I’m not sure quaint is the right word. (Laughs). But it (expansion) seems it is in the distant past, and certainly things have stabilized at least for the time being. But you’re right, compared to -- and now sitting here worried about the Mississippi river, and the Delta -- I think expansion, as passionate and wonderful as our rivalries are, Mother Nature has a way of keeping everything in perspective.
The over-signing issue is one that’s gotten a lot of press and fan attention. How much do you think it’s going to be discussed in Destin?
We’ll discuss it. But we’ll discuss it in the context of what we call roster management. In other words, it’s more than just the question of over-signing or grayshirting. It’s a question of over-signing, grayshirting, early admissions, summer school admission. We’ve put together what we call a bit of a package to address these issues, that will give our people a chance to think about these issues in a more global fashion. So then it will be an important discussion item in Destin.
What kind of specifics are in this package?
I’m going to save those for Destin.
Will there be action?
There will be action because you know they will come forth as proposed legislation for the presidents, the ADs and the other groups to opine on. But I feel good about them, so I think the goal is to make sure that our prospective student-athletes are treated in a way that is as they should be treated, like students are treated. And I think this package does that.
Mark Richt and others at Georgia and Florida, among others, have said they dislike over-signing and won’t do it. Steve Spurrier has come out and said he needs to do it, and Nick Saban is on that side of the issue too. Do you see where each of them is coming from?
Well we’ve had some discussions to get the proposed legislation in place. I can tell you that the First Amendment in the Southeastern Conference is alive and well.
When the agent issue popped up last summer -- A.J. Green, Marcell Dareus, Weslye Saunders, etc. -- you proposed that the NCAA and member conferences look at some steps, some of them seemingly drastic, including letting players compete while they have agents. Have you thought any more about this, or has it gone to the back burner?
No, to the extent that the NFL and the NFLPA have a few other things to think about now, it’s a little bit on the back burner. But it’s not been on the back burner during the year. The NCAA, the NFLPA, the NFL, the American Football Coaches (Association), agents and a couple of us have had conference calls and input into meetings and have come together to talk about these issues.
Just to go back, I said last summer I thought the NCAA rules were part of the problem, not part of the solution. And that’s because -- I analogize a very talented athlete to a musician, who has aspirations for a professional career, who wants to play in an orchestra in some major city -- and we ought to have a way of providing the same kind of information and help our kids with their aspirations, and not try to stymie them.
The conversations are ongoing. I’m not aware of any action at the present time. But, obviously, we feel that the NFL and the NFLPA are critical to a successful resolution of these issues. So when they finish what they’re doing, then we’ll get back at it. But more is being said and done this year than has been in any given year before.
The Cam Newton matter: There was an ESPN poll -- unscientific, obviously -- but, after the BCS title game, it had the majority of fans nationwide saying they viewed Auburn’s title as tainted. What would you say to those that feel that way?
It’s not tainted. Thus far, as we know at this point, the established facts haven’t pointed to anything that would impact (Newton’s eligibility). To those who say that, I just don’t feel that way.
Are there any regrets about the way it was handled, in any way?
I think it’s a more national question now -- in all of these things, issues that I think need to be addressed, should be addressed, in a national context, not necessarily in the context of one particular set of facts. I know that Dr. (Mark) Emmert (the NCAA president) and others are examining the enforcement process, the eligibility process, to make sure that people will have confidence in the process going forward.
Does the SEC need to do something about any image it may have nationally as this place where anything goes in football and they go too far to win?
The fact is that we don’t. And obviously I would prefer that student-athletes in our league get credit that they’re due because of their great skill and the good coaching in our league, which is in fact the case.
Let me put it to this way: I’m not aware of any major conference that doesn’t have issues, and that’s something that is of national concern.
Because I mentioned it earlier How long before the conference expansion talk re-ignites?
I can’t speak for anybody else, you know. But it hasn’t been an issue in the forefront recently. You’re going to have to ask other people. In the SEC, at the time this expansion issue was going on, we were satisfied with where we were and made that real clear.
Now I can’t speak for what the future will hold, times change, things change. But certainly at the time the expansion discussions were going on, we indicated that given our success we were comfortable with where we were. But we also said we would be strategic and thoughtful at any time to make sure that we protected the premier status of our league.
You have a strong, lucrative contract with both CBS and ESPN, but given the new dollars that the Big 12 and Pac-12 have gotten, what are the chances of re-opening things?
Last time I looked our lucrative deal was still lucrative. (Laughs). But we have a long-term deal with both CBS and ESPN. The dollars are very significant and even maybe to some degree it’s equally important (that) the distribution is extraordinary. So we’re very pleased with that.
But, again, we’ve been known to be creative. We have known to do things that other people haven’t done. So I’ll leave it at that.
Does that mean something besides the existing TV deal?
I’ll leave it just the way I left it. I’ve gotta give you a chance to have some spin, I can’t give it all to you. (Laughs).
What do you think might come out of this Justice Department investigation of the BCS?
I can’t tell you what’s gonna happen, I can only tell you that we, the BCS, remains confident based on very sound legal advice that the BCS does not violate anti-trust law.
You’ve proposed, along with the ACC, a plus-one format. Do you think that would be revisited in the near future?
I haven’t seen any sentiment that would give me reason to believe that the plus-one would come back. It’s been interesting to me to have been the person talking about the plus-one while we won five national championships in a row. But I think given the current composition of the BCS, I don’t anticipate it coming back.
The BCS is something that we in the media and fans talk about a lot. Is it something that gets talked about by you all behind closed doors?
My sense is there isn’t any sentiment for a playoff amongst the folks in the BCS. I mean I can’t speak for every single person. I don’t have a sense that there’s an interest in a playoff.
Does winning those five in a row kind of mitigate the desire to change anything?
If you win five national championships in a row with four different football teams it has a tendency to make you think twice about changing it.
Re-seeding in the basketball tournament came up last year, and it appears it will again, right?
Yeah, we’re gonna talk about that in Destin. We’re gonna talk about seeding the tournament, re-seeding it in some way. And we’re also going to begin some discussion about future scheduling. Not for this coming year, it’s too late for that, but to begin a dialogue early enough to think about whether we should schedule the way we do now in the future.
That would be interconference scheduling in terms of going away from the current setup in conference scheduling?
Yes. I’m pleased for the most part with the way our people have stepped out and played some pretty good non-conference games. I think it’s hopeful. Now we’ve got a few more that have yet to do that. But we’ve made that a point of emphasis in prior years. And I think I’m pretty satisfied with that.
Now we’re just gonna take a look at how we schedule internally.
And that would include possibly eliminating divisions?
That would certainly be a question that would be a part of it. There is a long-standing tradition here of keeping the divisions. But I, for one, would like us to take a look at all the options.
So any changes to the tournament seeding could be effective for next year?
We are going to talk about whether we should do it for 2012.
Are there any other issues you think are certain to come up or concern you?
The cowbell legislation (for Mississippi State) we had (last year) was for a year, and whether or not that legislation should continue.
There will be discussion of non-coaching personnel in football and basketball. And that discussion has been ongoing nationally.
I think we will talk about third parties in football recruiting, particularly the seven-on-seven.
I think those are a couple areas you can add to your list.
The seven-on-seven football recruiting issue, can you shed a little more light on that?
It’s sort of like the football version of AAU basketball teams. I think the way to think about it is the role of third parties in football, rather than dealing primarily with the high schools and parents.
So would it be fair to say that genie is already out of the bottle with AAU basketball recruiting, but you’ll take a look at stopping it before it starts in football?
Yes. And also in basketball, nationally we’re looking at the entire basketball recruiting calendar. And that arose out of the interest that many of us had in no summer recruiting in basketball. The calendar itself is under some discussion nationally, so we’ll talk about that too.
That’s a pretty good agenda.