DESTIN, Fla. -- The SEC meetings in this beach resort town used to be an intimate event. A few media members would mill about and hold informal conversations with coaches and league officials.
This year, the conference had to distribute credentials. And when commissioner Mike Slive met with the media Friday, he was at a podium in a conference room.
“Normally I’d just sit down there and chat with you,” he said. “But I think there’s interest in at least one particular topic.”
The over-signing debate, which Slive was alluding to, ended up dominating the week. But it was an eventful SEC meetings all-around: the over-signing vote, Steve Spurrier’s pay-for-play proposal, the elimination of basketball divisions, coaches being run down hotel hallways, and more.
Here’s who benefited, and who did not:
Mike Slive: The commissioner carries himself with an unassuming, open air. But behind the scenes he’s a calculating consensus-builder not afraid to tweak the powerful coaches in his conference.
That was evidenced by Slive getting his way on the roster management legislation, just two days after the football coaches voted against the key provision to limit signing classes to 25 players.
Obviously the presidents were a big driving force too, especially Florida’s Bernie Machen. But Slive reinforced his position as one of the most powerful -- although understated -- people in college sports.
The Georgia-Florida axis: It may have been a strange thing watching the presidents of the two schools walking together to the final presidents’ meeting Friday. But it was appropriate. Machen and Georgia’s Michael Adams were vocal proponents of cutting down on over-signing and gray-shirting. They largely won the day, too.
SEC basketball: Division play never really made much sense for this conference, other than keeping the schedule simple. The NCAA tournament selection committee basically ignored it: Three years ago it left out South Carolina, despite the Gamecocks sharing the East title; and this year Alabama was omitted despite running away with the West.
The impact of eliminating divisions may be negligible when it comes to NCAA bids. But in terms of fairness -- tournament seeding and parity in scheduling -- the conference took a step forward.
Steve Spurrier: Maybe it was a stunt. Maybe Spurrier was just trying to distract from the over-signing proposal (which he would be on the losing side of) or the Stephen Garcia situation (where he can’t win either way). But the stunt worked, garnering Spurrier attention, which he still loves, and some plaudits from national commentators.
That’s not to say Spurrier doesn’t actually believe in what he proposed. He always has had a liberal social streak, as evidenced by his shot at the Confederate flag a few years ago. His motivation was both altruistic and selfish.
More cowbell: Mississippi State once again won the right to continue its tradition of ringing cowbells. This came even though Slive said that the rule against noise at specific times was violated at the first two Mississippi State games. But even Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, whose team lost in Starkville last October, said, “(Head coach Mark) Richt would tell you that’s not the reason we lost that game. He’s told me that.”
Bobby Petrino: The Arkansas head coach has taken shots for being an over-signer and not having any charisma. But give him credit for his interview Tuesday, when he frankly explained why he over-signs and wondered aloud why Ohio State was allowed to play its suspended five players in the Sugar Bowl. It was a good week for Petrino to remind everyone of that.
Football coaches in general: Who knows if the vote really was unanimous. But they publicly resisted the limit on 25 signees and were publicly over-ruled by their presidents. That’s not to say they won’t return to being more powerful and popular by Monday. But for this week, they were reminded who was really boss on their campuses.
Nick Saban; The Alabama head coach looked a bit petulant before the vote, when he seemed to blame the media for the whole controversy.
“You think you’re helping them, but you’re really gonna hurt them,” he said to reporters who had followed him to a hotel elevator.
Then Saban looked weaker when the vote went against the coaches, and Slive announced that the presidents’ vote was unanimous. Of course, since the meeting was closed, you have to take the commissioner’s word for it.
Houston Nutt: The presidents indirectly took two swipes at the Mississippi head coach. The obvious was over-signing, since he signed 37 players in 2009 to become -- as one reporter pointed out to Nutt’s face -- the “poster boy” for the practice. But the presidents also voted to eliminate the graduate school exemption, less than a year after Jeremiah Masoli used that to transfer into Ole Miss and play right away for Nutt. Masoli wasn’t the first one to exploit the rule, but it apparently was the final straw for SEC presidents.
Dan Mullen: The Mississippi State head coach compared the effort to crack down on cowbells with the poisoning of the Toomer’s Corner trees at Auburn. Hopefully an adviser or two at Mississippi State has told Mullen not to make the comparison again.
Graduate students: One of the unexpected, and potentially backward, decisions by the SEC was to eliminate the graduate school exemption for transfers. No longer -- after the current cycle -- will players be able to transfer in to SEC teams and play immediately if they have graduated from their prior institution.
Slive said the change was made because it had moved from being an academic incentive to an athletic loophole. Maybe so, as witnessed by the Masoli transfer. But the benefit of encouraging athletes to pursue graduation, and then rewarding them for it, would seem to be greater.
The beach: Destin has a wonderful coast, with an emerald-colored sea. And those attending the SEC meetings saw very little of it.
Slive on Friday begged the media to get in all their questions quickly after the over-signing vote because, “I want to go swim.” He was spotted still in his street clothes a couple hours later.
Adams at one point advised Georgia beat writers to “go grab a beach chair and a beer.”