Destin, Fla.–Every year the Southeastern Conference holds its annual Spring Meetings at this Florida resort and every year there are “topics” that are hotly debated. Here are just three that dominated the conversation on Tuesday:
**–Satellite camps: The SEC does not allow its coaches to participate in summer camps that are more than 50 miles away from their campus. Other conferences do not have that rule and, as a result, coaches like Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer will serve as “guests” at camps in the South and will have contact with future recruits. The SEC coaches don’t like this.
**–Full cost of attendance: This is a no-brainer that should have been done long ago. Athletic scholarships cover room, books, board, tuition and fees. The gap between what the scholarship covers and the actual full cost of attending a school will be filled by a stipend. The amount of that stipend will be based on a government formula. Because living and travel costs vary from place to place, some schools will be able to give more money than others. And yes, the schools who give more could use that as a talking point in recruiting. The SEC coaches don’t like this.
**–Graduate transfer rule: Several years ago the SEC implemented what has become known as the “Jeremiah Masoli rule” after the former Oregon quarterback transferred to Ole Miss with only one year of eligibility left. The rule stated that players had to have two years of eligibility left to transfer to an SEC school. The conference eventually changed the rule to allow a graduate student to enroll under certain conditions with a waiver of the rule by the conference office.
This became a hotter topic recently when Notre Dame quarerback Everett Golson graduated and looked at a number of SEC schools he could transfer to and become immediately eligible. But he would have needed a waiver from the SEC office to enroll. Golson decided to enroll at Florida State. No SEC school ever asked for a waiver of the rule but the fact that the rule exists, some coaches felt, put them at a competitive disadvantage.
“These things (rules) need to be global,” Alabama’s Nick Saban told the media on Tuesday. “Otherwise we’re going to become a farm system for all the other leagues.”
“When it comes to recruiting, if it’s not equal then it’s not fair,” Bret Bielema of Arkansas said about the cost of attendance stipend.
But here is the new reality. In the coming years the landscape of college athletics will change in ways these coaches could never imagine and in ways that will make them very uncomfortable. In the New World Order of college athletics, the priority will not be whether or not coaches are being put at a competitive disadvantage.
Says who? Says Mike Slive, the powerful SEC Commissioner who will retire on July 31.
It’s really simple, said Slive. Since the NCAA was founded, the guiding principle in making rules was to create a “level playing field” where each school, regardless of its financial circumstances, would have a chance to compete. That’s how scholarship limits and the limits on how much scholarships were worth came into play.
“But now that guiding principle must change,” said Slive. “Now it must be about what is best for the student-athlete in the 21st century. Change is here. The outside world has found us. And if we don’t change then someone (like the courts) is going to change things for us.”
And the coaches? Well, to put it bluntly, they are going to have to suck it up and try to get by on $4 million a year.
Now that the millions generated by college athletics has become BILLIONS there are those in the legal profession who are more than willing to chase after this pot of money on behalf of current and future athletes (think about what they did to Big Tobacco). And the judges who hear these cases really aren’t going to care about competitive balance. They will look at a financial system which is overwhelmingly weighted in favor of the schools. And if changing that system to help the athletes impacts who wins and who loses the games, then so be it.
Those who run college athletics know they have a very small window of time to start improving benefits for athletes in advance of the increased litigation that is coming.
The Power Five conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) wanted autonomy and they got it. What that means is that those big boy conferences now have the power to set their own agendas and make their own rules. They can be more nimble in addressing some of these issues.
And when it comes to the cost of attendance stipend coaches are certainly within their rights to ask, as Georgia’s Mark Richt did, how other schools came up with their numbers. All that should be independently verified.
But the notion that the financial aid that many of these college students desperately need would be capped because of a perceived recruiting advantage by one school over another? That is so 20th Century. Not going to happen.
In the New World Order every conference and every school needs to figure out what works for them. That doesn’t mean that some schools can award 120 football scholarships. What it does mean is that moving forward, when the interest of the student-athlete bumps up against the interests of the institution, more often than not the student is going to win.
When it comes to the satellite camps, the SEC coaches want a national rule that essentially adopts their rule. That’s not going to happen.
The NCAA can say, and rightfully so: “Hey guys. Don’t put this on us. You wanted the autonomy. You figure it out.”
Greg Sankey, the incoming SEC Commissioner, calls these camps what they are. They are summer recruiting opportunities. The SEC has to decide whether or not it wants to stand pat with its rule or allow its coaches to jump into these waters.
“Our coaches don’t want to do this but if we feel, from a competitive standpoint, that it puts us at a disadvantage, then we’ll have to have a conversation and decide if we want to release the hounds,” said Sankey.
Sankey did say that if the SEC allows its coaches to take part in these camps, they won’t be restricted to the league’s geographical footprint.
“I would imagine our coaches would go every where in the country where we have a recruiting interest,” said Sankey.
My translation: The SEC is saying that if they do this it will be like the conference does everything else: They will go big with a bunch of resources.
The same goes for the graduate transfer rule. The SEC will have to decide if changing its rule is worth the hassle. We’re talking about such a small number of kids who have a minimal impact. Every graduate transfer is not Russell Wilson, who led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl after leaving N.C. State. Far from it.
My advice to the SEC is to stand pat. The conference made the rules for a reason and the competitive advantage–and I’m not convinced there is any–is minimal at best.
But when it comes to recruiting any advantage–perceived or real–makes people go crazy. I get that.
Stay tuned. The next few years are going to be interesting.