Rivalry Games, Scholarships Create Discussion
By Matt Smith
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SEC coaches and athletic directors discussed the new scheduling format for the 14-team conference alignment.
Day 2 of the SEC Spring Meetings at the Hilton Sandestin in Destin, Fla. saw coaches and athletic directors convene for a second straight day before university presidents arrive on Thursday. With the opening day heavily focused on a national playoff, Wednesday was partially highlighted by a debate carried over from last season regarding cost of attendance stipends for players. Another key issue discussed was whether or not to maintain permanent crossover opponents, or to simply have each team play its two non-division games against rotating opponents.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive spoke about the developments on the scheduling front.
“Friday afternoon, we’ll have a format. There are pros and cons with every format. I was impressed with the thoughtfulness that the coaches brought to the discussion. Coming in, I think there was a leader in the clubhouse [6-1-1]. Coaches came to the athletic directors and they expressed their views of the pros and cons of each one over the past few days.”
The 6-1-1 proposal that would maintain games such as Tennessee-Alabama and Auburn-Georgia seemed to almost be a foregone conclusion prior to Wednesday, but LSU head coach Les Miles said the meeting room was much more contentious than initially suspected
““I’m certainly for the best way to pick the divisional champions. We looked at the permanent crossover rival and for the most part I think most of the coaches would be in favor of eliminating an arbitrary permanent rival. There would be some discussion with Tennessee-Alabama and Auburn-Georgia.”
The rivalry Miles’ Tigers have with Florida is not as historic as some in the SEC, but with four national titles between the schools in the past nine seasons, it has become one of early October’s marquee games. The Mad Hatter is 4-3 in seven meetings with the Gators.
“I think what we’re all confronted with is the great traditions of our conference, the great rivalries that take place and wanting to be fair to the student athlete, in that he had every opportunity by definable criteria to make it to the SEC Championship Game.”
Miles cited equity and greater when discussing the benefits of rotating both of a team’s inter-division games.
“If Mississippi State is going to play Kentucky every year, I think that’s disproportionate. I’m not for Auburn playing Georgia every year. I think there should be an opportunity to see a greater segment of the conference.”
One proposal that has generated conversation since the league went to 14 teams was to keep only Tennessee-Alabama and Auburn-Georgia as permanent rivalry games and rotate both crossover games for the other 10 teams. Despite its complexities, Slive said it remains an option.
“We’ve asked our people to look at that as one of the possible formats. That’s a nice solution if it’s available, but like everything else, it raises another set of issues and then you have to balance that.”
Moving to a nine-game schedule would help balance traditional rivalry games while avoiding teams going over a decade without trips to certain SEC venues. Slive said that also is on the table this week, but downplayed the likelihood of adding an extra game.
“It was discussed today. Whether or not it has any serious traction is another question.”
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has been the most vocal supporter of increased stipends for student-athletes. He spoke Wednesday about some of the specifics he would like to see.
“We’re trying to find a way to get some extra money for living expenses because of the tremendous amount of money they’re bringing in. $3,000-$4,000 a year would be enough to allow them to live like normal student-athletes. It’s not a lot considering how much they bring in.”
The NCAA had proposed $2,000 as a potential additional stipend given to student-athletes, but Spurrier’s idea would go above and beyond that. Miles also shared his thoughts on the issue of student-athlete compensation, including the effect on non-revenue sports.
“The income producers for the conference are both football and basketball. There’s a want to say that with this extra income we would like to provide cost of education and cost of expense. We recognize it’s difficult for every team at every campus.”
Miles believes that student-athletes in revenue-producing sports should share in the income that they help bring in, but admitted “it would be a really difficult task to put it to work.”
Wednesday was the final day of coaches’ meetings, which suits Slive just fine, as he was returning home to attend the birth of a grandchild. Presidents will arrive Thursday, with any decisions on issues coming Friday. Slive is expected back in Destin for the final day of meetings. It’s a chaotic week for the commissioner, but likely no different than any other for the man in charge of the most powerful conference in college athletics.