ATHENS -- Commissioner Mike Slive wanted to make sure one thing wasn’t on the agenda for the SEC’s annual meetings this week: football scheduling.
That has been the main topic for about three years, especially at conference meetings in Destin, Florida.
“Scheduling fatigue,” said Georgia’s Greg McGarity, aptly summing up the feeling among fellow athletics directors, as well as presidents and SEC officials.
So in twin announcements this month, the SEC hopes it ended the debate. The conference stuck with eight games, then announced each team’s cross-division opponent through 2025. It was no accident it was all announced now, rather than waiting until Destin. Slive, according to several SEC administrators, wanted to discuss other things in Destin.
And there are important things to discuss. These are days of big changes in athletics, with the Ed O’Bannon case and the Northwestern unionization hanging over college athletics. The NCAA, in what is at least partially reaction to the players’ rights movements, is in the process of granting autonomy to the five major conferences -- including the SEC -- in setting many of its own rules.
These are also days of nervous expectation for the SEC, which launches its own network in August. It will mean more money for each school, but how much is unknown, and some hassles will come with it, as well.
So with all that as a backdrop, Slive will convene his powers-that-be Tuesday. Here are the major topics expected to be on the docket:
1. What autonomy will mean
The linchpin for the unofficial breakaway of the five major conferences is the ability to give student-athletes a stipend. The SEC has long supported it -- proposing a $2,000 stipend several years ago -- but smaller schools have consistently shot it down, because they said they don’t have the resources.
Now it appears the major conferences will be given the room to vote for the stipend. But then comes the harder questions: Do all athletes get the stipend, or just football and basketball players, whose sports bring in the vast majority of revenue? How much will the stipend be? What kind of limits will be placed on it?
There are more autonomy-related topics, most geared around heading off the perceived need for players’ unions, medical expenses, liberalization of transfer rules, liberalization of the ability to have agents as advisers and so on.
Slive long has sought to be at the forefront of reform within the NCAA. The coming autonomy will be the latest opportunity, and look for the SEC commissioner to speak up often this coming week.
2. Early signing period for football
This is one area where the SEC might actually be behind other conferences. The ACC has recommended an earlier signing period for football on Aug. 1, while 80 percent of coaches nationwide favor a signing day other than Feb. 1, according to CBSsports.com.
But the SEC isn’t a hotbed of support for the idea. Many coaches are reluctant to say so publicly, but they like the idea of having time to flip recruits who have committed to other programs.
The idea certainly will be discussed as football coaches meet Tuesday and Wednesday. This topic is a sensitive one for them. Right now it’s unclear whether the SEC will join the nationwide push for an earlier signing period, resist it or hang back and see where it goes.
3. The SEC Network
The channel goes on the air in August, and it will begin airing games soon after, including its first football game Aug. 28. But much remains to be hammered out as far as details.
What other shows will be on? What other games will be carried? How much cooperation will be needed from schools and the conference’s high-profile coaches?
Executives who are running the new network are expected to update SEC officials in Destin, as well as seek feedback on other issues related to the channel.
4. Football rules
The much-decried proposal to force offenses to wait 10 seconds to snap the ball was shot down earlier this spring. But it could come up again, and SEC coaches are on opposite sides. Arkansas Bret Bielema and Alabama’s Nick Saban in favor of slowing offenses down, and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn in favor of keeping it fast. Georgia’s Mark Richt leans toward Malzahn’s position, as well.
It’s all part of a larger debate about the direction of the game. While the 10-second rule doesn’t appear to have much of a chance of passing, Saban, Bielema and others seem likely to keep pushing for ways to help defenses.
5. Improving SEC basketball
Once again the conference only got three teams into the NCAA tournament this year, and while two of them made it to the Final Four, it continued a poor recent history for the SEC. Simply put, it has become top-heavy, with the overall perception of the conference being poor.
Last year Slive appointed Mark Whitworth as an associate commissioner to oversee men’s basketball, in a move aimed at getting the SEC better. Doing that was obviously more than a one-year job.
One thrust this offseason has been improving each team’s non-conference schedule, according to Georgia head coach Mark Fox. Look for Slive and Whitworth to get updates from each program on their schedules, and for more talk among the coaches about improving the league profile. The SEC Network could be one avenue to do that.