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Three Ways For The SEC To Fix Its Reputation

Last Friday, we examined the current dominant state of SEC football and listed for you the three reasons why SEC superiority isn’t about to end anytime soon:

* The Coaching Advantage — Last year, nine of the 24 highest-paid coaches in America worked in the SEC.

* The Money Advantage — Last year, nine of the 21 biggest athletic budgets in the nation belonged to SEC schools.

* The Talent Advantage — Since 1988, right at 30% of all NFL draft picks have played their high school football in the SEC’s nine-state region.

Like those facts or dislike them, they cannot be argued.  And they aren’t likely to change, either. 

With that in mind, it’s time for SEC commissioner Mike Slive to add to his legacy.  In the past eight years he has overseen a financial boon with two huge television contracts.  He has watched as his conference has become the unquestioned king of the college football world winning five national titles in a row (with four different schools grabbing the hardware).  Now it’s time for him to do something more long-lasting.

It’s time for Slive to fix the SEC’s reputation.

When Slive took over as the league’s seventh commissioner back in 2002 he made repairing the league’s outlaw reputation a priority.  Just a few short years ago, it looked as though his efforts were paying off.  Across the entire SEC only Arkansas’ track program was on NCAA probation in mid-2000s. 

Then all hell broke loose.

Alabama was put on probation over a textbook scandal.  Another probation at Bama?  That was bad for the league’s rep.

Then Kentucky hired renegade coach John Calipari.  Whether his reputation was fairly earned or not, his hiring was bad for the league’s rep.

And then LSU got into trouble over a juco recruit.  Then Bruce Pearl lied to NCAA investigators.  Then Cecil Newton became a nationally known figure.  Then all manner of accusations began to fly back and forth between Auburn, Florida and Mississippi State fans. 

All were hits on the SEC’s reputation.  Worse — conference commissioners from across the country, national pundits and many SEC fans were left to wonder why the SEC failed to act at all in the case of Cam Newton. 

The time to repair the league’s image has arrived.  With SEC football dominance (and revenue) at an all-time high, Slive should try to build a consensus among SEC presidents to make three changes within the league… changes that would go a long way toward improving the conference’s reputation.

1.  Outlaw oversigning.

2.  Create one uniform drug policy.

3.  Prevent players dismissed from one SEC program from transferring to another SEC school.


Consider oversigning to be “the sun got in my eyes” defense of the modern football era.  Fans of rival conferences are now beating the SEC to a pulp over the practice of oversigning.  Yes the SEC capped signees at 28 just two years ago, but with back-counting, grayshirting, juco transfers and questionable medical hardships being doled out yearly, SEC coaches continue to go above and beyond the SEC- (and now NCAA-) mandated 28-man headcount. 

Now, if oversigning were truly the key to the SEC’s success it stands to reason that Houston Nutt would have won a national title or two by this point as he’s viewed as the King of Oversigning.  But that’s not the point.

The Big Ten has the moral high ground on this one.  They’ve staked it out and owned it since way back in 1956.  Good for them.  If a coach signs signs a player who does not develop into the talent the coach expected, then the coach should pay for that mistake, not the player.  Oversigning allows coaches to chase and sign players who they know will never get into school (as Nutt admitted when he inked a ridiculous 37 players in 2009).  It also allows coaches to give the medical hardship heave-ho to disappointing players. 

College football may indeed be a business, but that does not excuse the fact that such sketchy practices are out of bounds when it comes to the coach-university-student/athlete relationship. 

With the SEC’s talent base, facilities, recruiting budgets and coaching roster, capping signees at 28 — and holding them there — would not cost the SEC a thing.  And if a coach cannot identify talent, sign talent, and develop talent within the confines of a 28-man cap, then that coach probably isn’t good enough to be coaching in the Southeastern Conference in the first place.

With the national clamor growing louder, it’s time for the SEC to disarm the last “yeah, but” defense in opposing fans’ arsenal.  It’s time to give some teeth to the oversigning rule.  Just as the Big Ten has done.  For 55 years.

No SEC fan should have to hear, “But they oversign” when national dominance is discussed. 

Drug Policies

Here’s another area where the SEC can take a stand and earn some attaboys from the national press.  As detailed in this piece, SEC schools currently set and enforce their own drug policies.  At schools like Kentucky and Georgia, that’s a good thing.  It’s three strikes and you’re out when it comes to drug offenses in Lexington and Athens.

But at schools like Ole Miss (no missed playing time until a third offense) and Florida (with a ridiculous five-strikes policy) repeat offenders can keep right on offending.

Obviously, Mike Slive does not want to begin collecting urine samples on the conference’s dime.  The league office has enough to worry about — the Newtons, Pearl, etc — without bringing in new hires to run a mini version of the DEA.  That said, it’s time for the league’s presidents to get together and create a uniform policy that each school can carry out on its own.

Drug tests cost money and not all SEC schools have equal cash in the bank.  So a reasonable number of annual tests would have to be agreed upon.  The same goes for how those tests would be administered.  But once those details were worked out, the league could easily put in place a uniform drug policy that falls somewhere between the stiff policies of UGA and UK and the lax policies of UM and UF.

Say something like…

* First failed drug test – No missed games, mandatory counseling, regular testing

* Second failed drug test – Miss 10% of a season’s games

* Third failed drug test — Miss 50% of a season’s games

* Fourth failed drug test – Automatic dismissal

There.  That wasn’t so hard, was it? 

Disciplinary Transfers

In May of 2007, Florida defensive back Jamar Hornsby was arrested on felony charges of improper use of a credit card after he had made nearly 70 false charges on the gas card of a dead University of Florida student.  He accepted a plea deal and avoided jail time.  Soon after, Nutt was luring him to Ole Miss.

Once Hornsby inked with the Rebels, he was arrested again.  In March of 2009 he was hit with assault charges following the beatdown of another man at a McDonald’s drive-through.  Hornsby was dismissed from the UM team before every suiting up as a Rebel.

Hornsby got his second chance at Ole Miss — the one he blew with the parking lot assault — only because he had top talent.  And that is wrong.  No SEC coach faced with making a disciplinary call on a student/athlete should have to worry about that player coming back to haunt him should he be dismissed.

Urban Meyer lived out this scenario again after Hornsby, of course.  Whether Newton left Florida or Meyer suggested Newton leave is up for debate.  As is Newton’s academic standing at the time of his departure.  What isn’t up for debate is the fact that Newton had been arrested in connection with a stolen laptop while still a Gator.  Newton left Gainesville for a junior college and then — free to go wherever he liked — he put himself on the open market.  Or at least his father did.

Last year as Newton starred for Auburn and led the Tigers to a perfect season and national championship, Meyer faced questions about how/why his old QB left the Sunshine State.  That’s not fair to a coach.  If we truly want upstanding citizens to represent our favorite schools, we should want our coaches to do whatever is necessary on the discipline front to make that so.  But if a coach fears that a rival school might burn him by using a player he has dismissed, it’s possible said coach will keep a miscreant on his team longer than he should.

Anyone who reads this site knows that we’re all for second- and third- and fourth-chances, especially when it comes to the lives of people in their teens and twenties.  But there’s nothing that says a second chance has to come in the same conference.

Last spring, Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger from his team after the player was arrested on charges of sexual battery, disorderly conduct, obstruction, providing false ID to a police officer and more.  He also reportedly lied to Mark Richt about the details of his arrest.  Richt dismissed Mettenberger from the UGA team. 

But after a year at a junior college in Kansas, Mettenberger will be back in the SEC at LSU this fall.  Now let’s just suppose that LSU and Georgia wind their way into the SEC Championship Game next year.  And let’s say Mettenberger thoroughly outplays UGA’s Aaron Murray and wins the game in Newton-esque fashion for the Tigers.  Think a few Dawg fans won’t hold it against Richt that he ran off a guy that beat him for an SEC crown?

That would not be fair to Richt (though we’re pretty sure that Richt would be glad to see Mettenberger getting a second chance).

Some will say that such a rule would have cost the SEC a national crown and a Heisman Trophy last year.  Perhaps.  But the league also would have avoided the enormous black eye provided by L’affaire Newton.

The SEC is a partnership between 12 member institutions.  When it comes to discipline, they should act like it.

The Southeastern Conference is clearly dealing from a position of strength these days.  Its football is as good as this country has ever seen.  Truly, the past 13 years of dominance (seven national titles won by five different programs) is unmatched in the history of the sport.

With its coaching advantage, money advantage and talent advantage, the Southeastern Conference schools can now work together to improve the league’s reputation without fear of undermining the conference’s on-field results.  They are so far ahead of the game that addressing the issues of oversigning, drug policies and disciplinary transfers will send the right message without hurting the overall product.

Therefore it’s time for Mike Slive and the SEC presidents to agree to cap each and every class at 28 signess.  It’s time for them to create a standard drug policy, still enforced by the individual schools.  It’s time for the league’s presidents to tell one another, “If you dismiss a player over a disciplinary issue, we’ll respect your decision and stay away from that player.”

Do that and the SEC will not only have a reputation for winning, but for winning the right way.  And here’s betting Slive wouldn’t mind having that for a legacy.


H.R. Bailey
H.R. Bailey

Don't confuse image with reputation. You can create an image but you have to earn a reputation.


This is indicative of our 'laid back' attitude toward drugs. Either drugs are ok and they aren't. It would send a clear message if
the 'student athlete' was dismissed from the team permanently after the second use. A signed statement from a Dr. (NOT the
team Dr) that a drug had been administered in order alleviate a medical problem such as severe pain should be the only
acceptable excuse.


It doesn't matter what rules you add if you do not enforce them (ala Cam Newton). The problems with SEC perception is not in the rules, it is the fact they are not enforced fairly.


4 failed drug tests????? Aren't these people "supposed" to be 'student athletes?

Where's the requirement that they actually be students--that sounds like a good place to start to me!


Take a look at all the articles popping up about "football culture" and its impact on long term health. In all honesty, shouldn't we be seeing more of these?

If an independent medical diagnosis says that a kid has an increased risk of permanent injury of some sort, then don't the adults in the room have an obligation to say, "Sorry, kid, but it's not worth it. Keep going to class for free, but you don't need to be on the field"?

I am not saying that has been the case in the past. But shouldn't it be the case moving forward?


Good article. I would suggest including underage and legal age alcohol offenses/use in the SEC uniform drug policy and of course the policy would have to give all of SEC non-athletic student/staff bodies equal 3 strikes and your out rules for the same sort of offenses.


You are right. We had some of those rules back in the stone age when we attended.


THANK YOU!!! This article so completely outlines the problems with our league. This year has been so disappointing re SEC and NCAA actually upholding rules and principles. Please listen, Mike Slive and Mark Emmert, before I completely lose hope!


thank you for this article! i have been screaming this for years. time to clean up the best conference in college football. it is clear there should be a drug policy and i was shocked when i found out that there was not one. also the transferring of players that have been kicked off one team needs to stop!! i was thrilled when coach meyers kicked cam newton off the gator team because we all in the area knew all about many of mr. newton off field troubles and even though i knew he was a great player i did not want a criminal representing the university of florida. i was shocked when aubur bought him oh wait i mean picked him up. so the sec ended up having a criminal thug represent us in the national title game - shameful!! lets clean it all up.

Chris S
Chris S

Hey Betty....the only thing "criminal" Cam did, he did while he was at YOUR school......and he WASN'T in the minority as Urban's Gators have more arrests on record than touchdowns! The kid made a mistake, while under the peer pressure of an entire team filled with criminal thugs.....and he learned from it! For you to call a human being who did nothing all season but spend time with troubled kids at the local elementary school when he wasn't practicing or studying or going to class a "criminal thug" is REPREHENSIBLE! Did you not hear that fine young man give glory to God MULTIPLE times for turning his life around and making something "postive out of something negative"? If that's not a role model that we should be holding up to our kids, instead of personally attacking just because he is a Christian who made a mistake, then I don't think we HAVE any role models in this world anymore. Cam Newton proved himself to be one of the finest examples of character and integrity of anyone who has ever played didn't hurt that he was also the most statistically successful player in the history of the game!


Mr. Freddy...

As I stated in the piece, it's debatable how Newton left Florida. He voluntarily withdrew. But was he encouraged to voluntarily withdraw? And, if Urban Meyer had known that he could keep Newton out of the league by dismissing him, would have have done so? Those are questions that would take up too much space in the column presented here. Instead, we use Newton as a possible example -- along with Mettenberger and Hornsby. If the SEC schools would agree to honor one another's disciplinary actions, coaches might be a bit tougher on crime which -- supposedly -- is what most fans and media types claim to want.

Thanks for reading,

Mr. Freddy
Mr. Freddy

Fair enough. I just think that if you're going to have a rule that states "no disciplinary transfers," then you have to say what that is. Under your framework, I think the player has to be dismissed from the team.

Otherwise, if the rule applied to people who transferred voluntarily after having a run-in with the law (i.e. Newton), then the standard becomes too loose and subject to interpretation re: what a "disciplinary transfer" is.


John, you did a good job laying out the problems and some possible solutions. Is Sleve up the job of not just suggesting those changes but convincing the member university presidents? We hope he is up to the job and at least will get some changes similar to what you have detailed. The integrity of the conference and the legacy of the future championships is at least in part dependent upon these changes. From what we have heard, there will be some eager responders but some very reluctant responders to any changes similar to those you suggest. It may be a hard sell for Sleve but we hope he will push it and maybe with some time on his side and the continued huge income, he will wear down the reluctant and they will sign on before not too many years pass by. It will only make the conference even stronger and will help restore a reputation which has become tainted in some areas. Though no championships are determined by any of the areas where changes are suggested, it would indeed help to restore reputation and credibility to some out there who have assumed a morally superior attitude.

Mr. Freddy
Mr. Freddy

How do you define disciplinary transfer?? Newton voluntarily withdrew from Florida.


COME ON!!! Cam was dismissed after the second or third charge at FLORIDA!!! WHY would he vol leave FLORIDA for AUBURN...FLORIDA better everything...


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  6. [...] advantages in talent pool, coaching acumen and monster budgets/facilities, count among those who feel the league could nix the practice and still be wildly successful.  After all, if oversigning were that big of an advantage, Houston Nutt and Steve Spurrier would be [...]

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