SEC Media Days Football

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks during the SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel, Monday, July 15, 2019, in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey led off the league's media days by covering plenty of news.

There was the media day location moves to Atlanta in 2020 and Nashville in 2021, the advent of legalized sports gambling and the NCAA's new football rules in officiating, notably with its targeting penalty.

There were numerous things to discuss for Sankey, who is entering his fifth year as SEC commissioner. Too many to address all in one opening statement at the beginning of one of the biggest media events of the year.

Sankey spoke about additional topics in depth during a 10-minute interview with The Advocate that covered the NCAA transfer portal, an overview on what's happened since the league lifted its ban on alcohol sales in member stadiums, and recent speculation on the SEC's broadcasting rights now that the Big Ten Conference is well into their six-year, $2.64 billion deal with ESPN and Fox Sports.

The transcript of the interview is listed below:

Starting with the NCAA transfer portal, how have you seen presidents, athletic directors and coaches respond to this and how it is now?

There was, and is, knowledge that things around transfers are changing. We’re watching kind of a developing story. We’ve had a year of more freedom, and we’re interested in what happens over time. I think we’re going to be dealing with this set of questions and unknowns and sort of tensions for a while. We have some concerns. I think one of the things that’s been healthy is to remove the old stories about somebody blocking a transfer, control of communication, destination and financial aid. But is the portal, is the quick movement healthy? Are young people going to be left without scholarships? Are teams going to be left without filling scholarships? And people are losing opportunities? What happens academically? My encouragement is for the NCAA to monitor those and we will pay attention too to help informed decision making to see what we might need to change.

It seemed like a lot of ideas (on the NCAA transfer portal) came up throughout this week from the coaches. Has anything recently come across your desk as far as some rule changes that might help?

We’ve talked pretty frequently about standardizing a year residence. We’ve modified our policies to be more flexible for graduate transfers. Should there be a standard year residence with certain specified exceptions? One of the points of concerns both in our meeting in Destin from our coaches, both football and basketball coaches, and even this week in football, is the unknowns around this waiver process. Our coaches are telling stories about young people coming in saying, ‘I want to transfer,’ receiving information about a standard year of residence in football, and then saying, ‘Well, I’m going to get a waiver.’ I think that’s an outcome of the messaging, and it seems like the waivers were granted. But there’s not always a lot of basis. People think, ‘Submit a waiver,’ and they may not be making decisions with the best information, and I believe that needs to change.

Since the lift of the alcohol ban, has there been any programs that have decided that they’re going to do it this year?

Texas A&M has communicated that they will, and I think they’ve done a lot of advance work. So we asked our programs to be prepared to look at their policies and work through these issues and if they’re going to deploy alcohol availability in the larger parts of the stadium and do so responsibly. The message to our fans is they have to act responsibly as well. I expect between now and the start of the season, you’ll see a few announcements but it certainly won’t be every one of our schools and I’m not even convinced it will be the majority of schools. I think this is new and people want to be careful, which is exactly what we encourage them to do in deploying alcohol availability.

What was the biggest thing to get that across the finish line for the conference?

It had been talked about and we never had a strategy for taking a deep look at the issue and identifying some options beyond the prohibition. We appointed a working group this last year that spent a lot of time understanding what’s happened on other campuses outside the league when they have introduced alcohol. What’s the history here? What research may be available? In fact, brought some folks in to share with us research results. We looked at recent experiences like Texas, West Virginia — most notably. Ohio State was part of it. And then provided for options to keep the policy in place or eliminate it completely, and then some things in the middle with oversight and our membership said we can give autonomy with still maintaining the conference policies. So to my knowledge, there’s no other conference with an oversight policy that they still maintain. But it does make it available.

You know, two beers and a hotdog at a football game? That’s a healthy experience. Twelve beers and a hotdog at a football game? Not so healthy. So we do have an expectation of both campus and individual responsibility now that this opportunity can be presented.

It seems behind the scenes that the broadcasting rights to the SEC is a big story, where does that stand right now, and is it something that could get reconstructed before the end of the current contract?

I’m actually not the one quoted in those stories — other than to say we have had a decades-long, healthy relationship with CBS. We have a number of football seasons, five I believe, remaining on our agreement. We appreciate the relationship, but we’ll have five great years and see what the future holds.

Is a conversation ongoing?

Not one that I talk about publicly.

Listening to Steve Shaw talk earlier this week about the communication that’s been improved between the officials and the coaches, including the additional sideline monitor, do you feel like communication was the biggest thing to improve?

We started really a year ago talking about how can we educate and inform? We haven’t really used the words transparency. We want to provide education and information. It helps people understand what’s going on in our officiating programs, because there’s a lot of work on our website now. You can see our year-long preparation plan and our in-season weekly oversight-evaluation-support-education-training plan for officials. There’s been a vacuum of information people just don’t know. We just want to share that information, so you saw Steve twice this week. Once talking about football rules, and then talking about our program and what we do in answering questions. Some of the electronic media communication is to accomplish that goal. We’re not going to debate calls. I don’t think we’ll win everyone to what we view and what we view as the proper application of the rule, but we want people to know that we have highly-prepared, high-integrity and high-character people that are dedicated to officiating a game properly. It’s a dynamic game and they have to make instantaneous decisions. We want to be perfect, but our players and coaches aren’t perfect, nor will our officials be, who are really good at what they do. We’ll show: ‘Here’s why.’

You announced that SEC media days will be in Atlanta next year and Nashville in 2021, what goes into those travels?

We’ve been here since the mid-80s and I think we have a responsibility to showcase the SEC in as many different ways as possible. So moving media days to Atlanta last year was a step and an experiment. And it went well; We learned a little bit. Atlanta is where our football championship game is played at the end of the season, and we can bookend the season by beginning in Atlanta with media days. It kind of reinforces our presence. And then Nashville is a market where we have a basketball tournament. We have two universities in the state. It’s still centrally located. The geographic center of the league is just about an hour northwest of Birmingham. Nashville’s on that line. It’s an exciting place. So those are kind of the next steps and what happens after ‘21 remains to be seen. I don’t know. So the fact that people have said they know what’s going to happen is interesting. We’re going to wait and see where we go next.

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.