DESTIN, Fla. — The Southeastern Conference is under siege.
Not so much on the playing fields — like in softball, where five SEC teams will play this week in the Women’s College World Series — or even in football, though it’s been going on three years since the league won that national championship. (No truth to the rumor that this crisis is what prompted Commissioner Mike Slive’s pending retirement.)
These devils are in the details of NCAA rules and legal interpretations.
The football and basketball coaches gathered here this week for the annual SEC Spring Meeting may be trying to beat each other’s brains out on the gridiron or the court, but for now, they’re united in at least two common goals:
1. They’re worried that impending cost of attendance payments to student-athletes will create unintended consequences in terms of recruiting.
2. Rules regarding satellite camps have to be changed.
I saw you. Your eyes glazed over, didn’t they? You’re more concerned with who LSU pitches in Game 1 of the NCAA regional or this week’s Mega Millions drawing, right?
But these are big issues that hit the SEC right in its natural resources: recruiting. Talent is the fuel that makes the SEC the powerhouse conference that it is, and if rules exist that could sway that talent to another conference or school, then the SEC — your SEC — has a major problem.
In January, the NCAA’s “Power Five” conferences flexed their new autonomy and passed a rule allowing schools to pay student-athletes beyond the traditional costs of tuition, room, board, books and fees. It’s a noble decision, one that has been debated for decades.
Problem is, almost no schools will pay the same amount, ranging from $5,666 to $1,400. Each school calculates its own cost of attendance and apparently is to be taken at its word.
At LSU, that figure is $3,096 per school year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. SEC rivals Tennessee ($5,666), Auburn ($5,586) and Mississippi State ($5,126) figure they should be allowed to give significantly more.
In all, 28 of the 65 “Big Five” conference schools and eight SEC schools will be able to pay more in cost of attendance than LSU will be allowed to pay. LSU does rank ahead of power programs like Alabama ($2,892), Texas A&M ($2,706) and Georgia ($2,598), however.
Could a recruit be swayed to another school because he/she believes they’re getting more money? What would an extra two grand have meant to you when you were 18? Alabama coach Nick Saban also called for transparency, though getting private schools like Vanderbilt to open their books seems like a nonstarter.
“I don’t think you should create a system that could promote fraud,” Saban said bluntly. “I don’t think this is equal for everyone. I’ve always been for the players getting more, but I think the unforeseen consequences are that this may create a competitive imbalance.”
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva concurs but doesn’t see a way to fix the issue.
“Each school has their own definition of cost of attendance,” said Alleva, who estimated cost of attendance will cost his department $1.5 million to $1.8 million per year. “We have to be careful. We don’t want to put too many limits on it. That flies in the face of the court ruling” that paved the way to pay for cost of attendance in the first place.
LSU coach Les Miles said he’s concerned, but “If the cost of attendance is based on the same function and arithmetical formula, it won’t be an advantage in any way.”
The SEC came out staunchly in opposition to satellite camps Monday, which takes advantage of a loophole in an NCAA rule about coaching summer camps by allowing coaches to work camps well outside their school’s home state or geographic area.
Outgoing SEC Commissioner Slive called them what they are.
“They’re better referred to as recruiting camps,” he said.
“We’re against satellite camps,” Miles said. “They don’t make any sense. You’re looking for an opportunity to recruit away from the recruiting calendar. I don’t think it’s what the NCAA is about. You run your camp within a certain radius of your school. Anything else to me is changing the recruiting calendar.”
But in a surprising revelation, the SEC admitted that if its rule barring satellite camps doesn’t earn NCAA-wide support, the conference could instead reverse field and allow its coaches to take part.
“We want it to be done nationally,” incoming SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said of the soon-to-be proposed SEC rule. “But there’s a lot of talk among our football coaches that we don’t want to be on the sidelines any longer.”
“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” typically isn’t the SEC way. But some issues, like cost of attendance and satellite camps, may be too big to bend to the SEC’s considerable will.
* * *
SEC COST OF ATTENDANCE ALLOWANCE
School, difference in scholarship
Mississippi State, $5,126
Ole Miss, $4,500
South Carolina, $4,151
Texas A&M, $2,706
* — LSU ranks 29th among “Power Five” conference schools (SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12) in what it is allowed to pay for cost of attendance
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education