HOOVER, Ala. — Greg Sankey knew the exact amount of time between the end of the College World Series and the beginning of Southeastern Conference media days.
He knows because he was there in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 27 when Florida beat LSU to win the national championship. He knows because he was there, too, on Monday, stepping to the microphone to begin media days.
“We used to sing 'Twelve Days of Christmas,' ” Sankey joked in his opening address to reporters. “We're working on 'Twelve Days of Summer' as a new song. It does go quickly.”
SEC media days — an event the league refers to as the unofficial start of football season — isn’t the only thing beginning earlier this year. The actual practicing of football is starting sooner, too.
More than half of the league is beginning preseason camp in July, according to tentative dates that emerged this week.
The NCAA Division I Council abolished two-a-days this spring, a ruling that resulted in the addition of an extra week of camp. Schools can start seven days earlier than in previous years.
Some are using it. Others are not.
Practices are beginning as early as July 25 at Mississippi State and as late as Aug. 3 at Alabama.
Some agree with the extended time. Many don’t.
“As far as starting earlier, our coaches expressed concern about that when we met in Destin (for the SEC Spring Meeting), that they, as a group, are not looking to start earlier,” said William King, the SEC’s associate commissioner for legal affairs and compliance. “Their concern is that it interferes with the summer (school) and exams. It’s bringing everyone back, student-athletes and coaches, earlier than they’d like.
“The feedback has been similar from the student-athletes. They like, if they can, a break of some sort from the end of summer school and exams before they go into fall camp.”
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Mississippi State won’t have that. The Bulldogs don’t complete the second term of summer classes until Aug. 2-3, a week after camp is scheduled to start. LSU will have a short break — just two days — from the time summer school ends (July 27) to its reporting date of July 30. Drills begin July 31.
Coach Ed Orgeron purposely planned the schedule to allow his players to potentially return home before the grueling weeks of camp begin.
“I couldn’t push it any farther back,” he said. “Got to give the guys a couple of days off. We cannot push it back another week. That’s going to dig into our summer school time. We’re starting as early as we can.”
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen created his camp schedule after discussions with trainers, strength staff and his assistants. Unlike others — namely, Alabama coach Nick Saban — Mullen likes the expanded camp time because of the flexibility it offers.
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Coaches have the same limit of 29 on-field practices as before, but the practices are now spread over, in State’s case, seven more days.
Saban argued against lengthening a season that he said is already too long. The coach is starting camp just a day earlier than normal.
“I cannot see bringing our guys in in July to start practice and have four or five weeks of practice before we play our first game when summer school's still going on and all that,” Saban told reporters in April, after the rule passage. “I think if we thought two-a-days was too much, we should have not made it longer. We should have just eliminated two-a-days and just kept the practices a little less, because it's a long season.”
This isn’t the only change to camp.
The NCAA has made it mandatory that players receive one full day off per week during drills. Complete off days were not mandatory and were somewhat of a rarity in previous years.
Mullen, a previous member of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee, is against a full day off. He’d like to see the policy tweaked to allow coaches to, say, teach a non-football class on players’ off days.
“Instead of sitting around a hotel on their back for the entire day, bring them in and have two hours of life skills,” he said.
The seven-day extension to the camp schedule is not definite. This year is serving as a trial period, more or less.
“We’ll go through this and see next year if it’s something we want to change permanently,” King said.
The extension of camp is part of the conversation, Sankey said, regarding a possible 14-week season. A 14-week season would include two open dates (instead of one) built around 12 regular-season games.
“We're open to a 14-week season, but we want to be very careful about not moving the standard for football practice even earlier into the summer,” Sankey said.
That’s fine for some, like Mississippi State linebacker Dez Harris, who's itching to take the field — even against his teammates.
“Oh yeah,” Harris said of the July 25 kickoff to camp. “I’m excited to start football earlier.”
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Most Southeastern Conference football teams are taking advantage of the NCAA extending the preseason camp schedule by a week. Many are starting in July. Most of the dates below are tentative and have not yet officially been announced.
- Mississippi State: July 25
- Arkansas: July 27
- South Carolina: July 27
- Tennessee: July 29
- Kentucky: July 29
- Vanderbilt: July 31
- Georgia: July 31
- Auburn: July 31
- LSU: July 31
- Texas A&M: Aug. 1
- Missouri: Aug. 1
- Ole Miss: Aug. 2
- Florida: Aug. 2
- Alabama: Aug. 3