In recent years Mike Slive has used his curtain-raising speech at the start of SEC Media Days to push for change in the practice of oversigning, to steer college athletics toward a rule book reform, and to discuss the need for college football players to receive larger scholarships.
There are two topics that the commish could bring up today that would a) show that the SEC is serious about creating a level playing field for all the league’s teams and b) prove the conference’s desire to clean up its image.
Trouble is, there’s no way in Hell either idea would be accepted by league presidents or mentioned by the commissioner today.
The schools of the SEC have shown time and again that they prefer autonomy. Unlike the franchises of a professional league, conference schools are free to adopt and enforce many of their own rules. Examples: entrance requirements, drug policies, etc. In some cases there are league-wide minimums — in terms of drug policies that minimum is simply to have one — but schools can decide for themselves how far they want to take their own rules.
That sounds fine and dandy, but we’d prefer to see the SEC commissioner — currently Slive — receive more power. Certainly, there are many fans who believe he already has too much power. But when it comes to creating a level playing field and improving the league’s reputation as an anything-goes, renegade conference, it’s going to take someone with Kennesaw Mountain Landis-type powers.
For that reason, we believe the SEC should yield in a couple of big areas, lead the nation once more, and give its commissioner the power to…
1. Enforce a league-wide, uniform drug policy
Crossing sports and eras, the differences between SEC institutions’ drug policies continue to be a talking point among fans and media. Whether it’s former Florida football player Aaron Hernandez, former LSU football player Tyrann Mathieu, or current Ole Miss basketball player Marshall Henderson, as long as there are differing drug policies, there will always be questions about which schools tend to look the other way on drug usage.
The time has come for that to change.
With one company performing the same number and the same types of tests at all 14 institutions — and with those results going to the league office — there would for the first time be a level playing field all across the SEC in football, basketball or other non-revenue sports. At MrSEC.com, we believe the majority of fans would actually be in favor of such a uniform policy, despite the fact that most league presidents have failed to back such a plan at least three times.
As it stands, Georgia and Kentucky will continue to get praise for having stiff anti-drug sanctions. And all the other schools will continue to walk in the grey area — some with tougher policies than others — giving some schools a competitive advantage over others.
2. Enforce a league-wide cheating policy
When Slive took over as league commissioner in 2002, he made it a priority that all 12 of the league’s schools comply with NCAA rules. No league will ever be perfect, but the SEC had developed a reputation for being a league filled with scoundrels. Fair or not. And so Slive set out to change that perception and he came darn close. With the exception of an Arkansas track team on probation, just a few years into Slive’s reign the SEC had for the most part dodged major sanctions and major violations.
But then came a textbook scandal at Alabama. The Cam Newton mess at Auburn and Mississippi State followed. There was a high-profile string of secondary violations by Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. Bruce Pearl’s cover-up of an infraction can next, also at Tennessee. John Calipari brought his sketchy reputation — again, fair or not — into the SEC. On and on. And today the league is right back where it was when Slive started… it’s the conference most often cited when the subject of cheating in collegiate athletics is brought up.
If Slive and the league’s presidents are serious about cleaning up their home, a league-wide “death penalty” for head coaches and assistants found guilty of multiple major NCAA violations should be put in place.
Under such a no-nonsense plan, if the NCAA found an SEC coach guilty of multiple major NCAA infractions, that coach would lose his job and not be allowed to return to coaching inside the league at any school. Ever. You can be sure that penalties of that sort would grab the attention of any coach considering an under-the-table payment to an athlete.
There would be an argument made that hiring coaches would become tougher for SEC schools, but the money the league’s institutions throw at coaches would still turn heads and still lure in top talent. It just wouldn’t be coaches who considered cheating. And note we didn’t say coaches presiding over a program caught cheating. There must be a direct tie back to the head coach or assistant for the penalty to kick in, lest one unscrupulous booster might take down an entire coaching staff.
As noted above, neither of these ideas will adopted by the SEC anytime soon and probably not ever. School presidents have already shown that they prefer controlling their atheltes’ drug-use issues on their own. And you can be certain that schools wouldn’t want to give up the power to decide for themselves whether to retain or dismiss a coach found guilty of multiple major NCAA violations.
But if the league is serious about creating a level-playing field for all its schools and cleansing its reputation as a cheater’s paradise, these two unprecedented steps would help greatly in doing the trick.