Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey wrapped up his state of the conference speech Monday as the SEC Football Media Days got underway by invoking a Missouri baseball player.
Before taking questions, Sankey concluded his prepared remarks by quoting Nolan Gromacki, a Smithville graduate and mechanical engineering major who made 15 relief appearances as a sophomore right-hander for the Tigers last season.
“This summer when I saw baseball players from around the country, I walked into the room wearing my ‘I am the SEC’ T-shirt,” Sankey said quoting Gromacki. “That’s something they all want. I compete in the greatest conference in the country.”
That fit in with the SEC’s new slogan for 2016-17.
“What Nolan said is ‘It just means more,’ ” Sankey said.
That became the touchstone for Sankey, who opened by acknowledging the unrest in the country after a series of highly publicized police shootings and the shooting of a dozen Dallas police officers.
“This is one of those times in our nation where we weep, we mourn, for those families and cities who have experienced loss,” said Sankey, who lived in Dallas for 11 years.
Sankey believes sports can — and already do — have a positive impact on society, quoting former South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela to drive home his point.
“Sports, (Mandela) said, has the power to change the world,” Sankey said.
He then ran through a list of SEC student-athletes and professors who embody that idea, including Mizzou senior tight end Sean Culkin.
Culkin has participated on mission trips that included a children’s camp in Nicaragua and outreach programs in El Salvador.
“I want us all to be proud of what we do together and to continue to add to the legacy, the amazing legacy, of the Southeastern Conference,” Sankey said. “I want SEC teams to win every possible championship, and I expect us to be victorious the absolutely right way.
“All of us who call the SEC home — our administrators, our coaches, our fans, our players — we’re all contributing to something that lasts, something that matters and can’t be measured on a score board. It can be measured through people’s lives, through service trips to foreign lands, families who live better because of a college education and in one changed life after another.”
Additionally, Sankey noted that last August marked the first time since 1984 that no SEC teams were on NCAA probation, a fact likely to change when investigations into Missouri men’s basketball and Mississippi football are finished.
“As we move forward together, we can’t have any more of those issues arise,” Sankey said. “The central thought must be, must be, we never have a team return a championship trophy, never vacate any wins and never have one of our teams precluded from postseason competition because we either can’t follow the NCAA’s rules or can’t meet the expectations for academic success.”
Still, the trend is encouraging.
The SEC had 47 programs, nearly one in five, roughly at or below the penalty line when Academic Progress Rate was introduced in 2005.
Now, the SEC doesn’t have any teams within 10 points of the penalty mark, which Sankey touted as a remarkable achievement. He also noted that 36 teams in the conference have a perfect four-year APR.
Finally, Sankey paid homage to Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach who died last month.
“Pat was a pillar of the Southeastern Conference,” he said. “She’s on par with many of the great names, may have set the standard for all of the great names, that are a part of this conference. Her impact is felt every day in the lives of the young people she mentored. Their ongoing success is living proof of Pat’s influence and truly positive impact of intercollegiate athletics.”
He trumpeted arguably the most remarkable aspect of Summitt’s coaching career, which includes an all-time NCAA basketball record 1,098 wins during her coaching career.
“It’s football Media Days, but it’s appropriate to remember Pat,” Sankey said, “because, while there’s a measure of her impact in the record books, we can’t lose sight of the fact that she had 100 percent of her players who completed their eligibility under her leadership graduate from the University of Tennessee.”