Campus Corner

State of the SEC: Commissioner Greg Sankey pours cold water on realignment talk

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey spoke on several topics Monday during SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey spoke on several topics Monday during SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. The Associated Press

Let’s start with an item that most directly impacts Missouri.

Auburn wants out of the SEC West for football.

Can you blame them?

Alabama has made everyone cry uncle for a half-decade and the Nick Saban freight train shows few signs of slowing down, a circumstance SEC West teams understand more acutely than anyone else.

The proposed solution for Auburn is to swap places with Missouri, which absolutely belongs in the SEC West based on geography.

Nonetheless, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey again threw cold water on the debate Monday during his annual State of the SEC remarks to kick off SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency-Wynfrey Hotel in suburban Birmingham, Ala.

“It has not been an agenda item in the meeting,” Sankey said. “It is a conversation in most large press conferences in which I appear, and that’s the extent of the conversation.”

That echoes Sankey’s comments from six weeks ago during the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla.

It’s not even a conversation worth having until the SEC is ready to move to a nine-game conference football schedule, because Auburn would lose its annual rivalry with Georgia and Alabama would lose its annual rivalry with Tennessee — or Alabama and Auburn would stop playing each year — if such a move occurred.

On replay …

The SEC introduced a collaborative instant replay mechanism last season, an innovation that was new to college football.

“By all accounts, it worked well,” Sankey said. “We connected technology. Our staff did great work in making certain that that innovation would function properly. We’re still not perfect in officiating. We’ll strive for that this year.”

But that’s not the only sport set for replay.

Sankey said the SEC “has asked for permission to experiment with collaborative instant replay” in men’s basketball next season.

The conference also hopes to expand the use of instant replay in baseball, which was used on a limited basis last season but is not a centralized, collaborative process.

Sankey said he hopes the NCAA Football Rules Committee will make collaborative instant replay a permanent rule when it meets in February.

On transfers …

The SEC has adopted the stance that “financial aid should not be tied to whether a school grants permission to contact” when an athlete seeks a transfer.

“That’s one of those control points in transfers,” Sankey said. “I think it’s time for that to be, not only discussed, but I think that’s something that should move forward from my perspective.”

The change would prevent college coaches from effectively holding a player hostage if he elects to leave a program — an issue that reached the national spotlight thanks to Kansas State’s Corey Sutton saga.

He said the SEC currently is awaiting final recommendations from an NCAA working group studying the issue.

“There are a lot of pieces to those solutions,” Sankey said. “Yet, I’m pleased the working group is having both the right conversations and talking about the right issues.”

On a 14-week season …

Amid discussion about adding a second bye week to the college football schedule, Sankey said the SEC isn’t opposed to such a change.

“There’s curiosity and interest,” he said.

However, the conference doesn’t want to see the practice begin earlier, which could become a sticking point to lengthening the season by a week.

On recruiting …

With big changes coming to the NCAA recruiting calendar for football, including earlier visits for prospects and a December signing period, the SEC has formed a committee to discuss optimal long-term solutions for the recruiting process.

Missouri coach Barry Odom is one of four coaches — along with Alabama’s Nick Saban, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason — on the committee along with Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, who formerly chaired the College Football Playoff selection committee.

On scheduling conflicts …

When Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on Florida’s Atlantic seaboard last October, the Gators called off a game against LSU to ensure community resources weren’t allocated for football rather than emergencies.

But the resulting squabble in which LSU refused to make the trek to Gainesville, Fla., on Nov. 19, when both teams had cancelable nonconference games, highlighted a breakdown in the conference’s command structure.

Ultimately, Sankey stepped in to mediate a deal in which Florida agreed to move the game to Baton Rouge, La., in exchange for the 2017 game moving to Gainesville, Fla. — but only after some barbs were exchanged among Florida and LSU officials.

That won’t happen again in the future.

“We didn’t have a policy as a conference once you move past game day,” Sankey said. “That has to be the authority of the commissioner to designate the game day.”

Now, it is.

Sankey said the SEC presidents and athletic directors voted unanimously to give the commissioner authority to dictate when and where games will be played.

He also codified the notion that “all eight conference games be played in order to be eligible for the conference championship. We’ve made that now an explicit commissioner’s regulation.”

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer

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