HOOVER, Ala. — Greg Sankey isn’t going from delivering the opening remarks at Southeastern Conference media days to delivering an opening comedy routine for Jay-Z’s new tour.
If you want side-splitting laughter, the commissioner isn’t your man. If you want thoughtful, incisive, if occasionally controversial decisions (see last year’s LSU-Florida fiasco), then give the former Northwestern State intern a listen.
For the third time, Sankey took the podium Monday to touch on a number of important college sporting topics, among them:
• A 14-week college football schedule: The NCAA is studying the possibility of adding a week to the regular season, giving teams two open dates in addition to 12 playing dates. The trick is not allowing preseason practice, a period in which two-a-day workouts are now forbidden, to start too early.
“We’re open to a 14-week season,” Sankey said, “but we want to be very careful about not moving the start of football practice even earlier into the summer.”
• Transfer rule reform: Sankey’s predecessor, Mike Slive, frequently used the bully pulpit of his considerably influential office to subtly push forward ideas he thought were important to college athletics. Sankey on Monday appeared to be taking the same tack with the transfer rule, saying he has great interest in what an NCAA working group comes up with over the year on the subject. Clearly though, Sankey believes coaches should have less control over impeding transfers than they do now.
“From (the NCAA working group) meeting two weeks ago, we saw a set of concepts, one of which was the idea that financial aid should not be tied to whether a school grants permission to contact,” Sankey said. “That’s one of those control points in transfers. I think that’s something that should move forward, from my perspective.”
Given the Slive model, there’s a decent chance Sankey is going to get his way on this topic.
• Instant replay: Sankey reminded that the procedure of “collaborative instant replay” between replay officials at stadiums and at SEC headquarters in Birmingham is an experimental process from an NCAA perspective, a process he hopes the NCAA will make permanent.
“Some of the models vary,” he said. “We respect that. That’s part of an experiment. We hope as we head toward the (NCAA football) rules committee meeting that we see instant replay standardized.”
The SEC is expanding the "experiment" in collaborative instant replay to conference games this season in men’s basketball. Sankey would also like to see the NCAA expand instant replay in baseball.
“Thanks to the work of our friends from ESPN, the SEC Network and our campus production staffs, we’ve got a level of baseball coverage in this conference that’s unparalleled,” Sankey said. “We can take advantage of that and maybe enhance the use of replay. At least that’s our desire.”
• Breaking barriers: Sankey took a considerable amount of time to recognize the student-athletes who broke the color barrier around the SEC in the 1960s. Among them were Tulane baseball player Stephen Martin, who in 1965 became the first black athlete to play in a game for an SEC member institution, and Henry LeBoyd, who also played baseball for LSU.
Sankey emphasized the upcoming 50th anniversary of Kentucky’s Nate Northington, who Sept. 30, 1967, became the first black SEC football player in a game against Ole Miss. Northington and black teammates Wilbur Hackett, Houston Hogg and the family of the late Greg Page will be recognized at the SEC championship game in December.
• And about that LSU-Florida game: As he outlined in June at the SEC Spring Meeting, Sankey reiterated the broader authority his office now has for rescheduling weather-impacted games like last season’s LSU-Florida game. That postponement resulted in controversy before the game was eventually moved from Gainesville to Baton Rouge late in the season. LSU will now have to play in 2017 and 2018 at Florida.
“Obviously, there was a lot of learning last year,” he said. “We didn’t have a policy as a conference once you move past game day (to reschedule). That has to be the authority of the commissioner to designated the game day. That has been corrected.”
• And what about divisional realignment? Sankey said that continues not to be “an agenda item at our meetings. It’s in the conversation at most large press conferences at which I appear. That’s the extent of it.” Sankey admitted in Destin that Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs informally discussed the possibility of his Tigers moving to the SEC East with him there. The way Sankey and other SEC officials continue to refer to realignment as “not an agenda item” instead of saying it’s not going to happen makes it a subject that continues to bear watching.