It was awkward and strange at times during SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., last week.
A few university representatives were on the defense given certain scrutiny placed upon their institutions. But other programs were able to come out feeling pretty good about where they stand and how the SEC will move forward in their money-making sports.
With this year’s rendition of the SEC spring meetings wrapped up, here’s a look back at which groups came out as winners or losers.
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A year ago, Georgia, led by former head coach Mark Richt and athletics director Greg McGarity, proposed conference legislation to prevent member institutions from accepting transfers who had previously been linked to domestic violence and sexual assault incidents.
It was dubbed the Jonathan Taylor rule because Alabama admitted him following a junior college stint, although Taylor was charged with assaulting his girlfriend while a player at Georgia. It didn’t take long for Taylor to pick up another domestic assault charge at Alabama, resulting in his dismissal from the program.
Last year, the proposal met some resistance. But in the wake of what transpired at Baylor, coaches were unanimous in expanding the scope of what’s known as the SEC’s serious misconduct policy. Credit Georgia for being out in front of this a year ago.
The policy now encompasses other forms of dating violence, stalking and whether someone has been convicted, pleaded guilty or asserted no contest in court to a related crime.
Loser: Mississippi State
While the SEC expanded the serious misconduct policy for transfers, incoming freshmen are still not included. That allowed Mississippi State to admit five-star defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons to the program and suspend him for only one game while undergoing counseling.
Athletics director Scott Stricklin took bullets in an impromptu gathering with reporters, with head coach Dan Mullen and university president Mark E. Keenum electing to avoid the issue. The punishment of only a one-game suspension does not appear to fit the crime of repeatedly punching a woman in the face while on the ground — a violent encounter caught on video.
If Mississippi State wanted to admit Simmons, a year-long suspension, at minimum, was necessary. A one-game suspension, against South Alabama at that, is incredibly weak and serves the best interest of nobody involved in intercollegiate athletics.
Winner: SEC referees
The SEC is looking to be at the forefront in how official replay reviews are conducted. By implementing a collaborative replay approach, the conference will put more eyes on plays to ensure calls on the field are correct.
There have been times in past seasons when an on-site official may have misinterpreted a rule on a given play, with the review going against what’s written down.
Human error is unfortunately a component to officiating a game, thus leading the SEC to add three more sets of eyes from its Birmingham office to make sure plays are reviewed correctly. The on-site replay official will still have the final say but will now be able to talk it over with a separate crew.
This could benefit the game in a long run if its effective in the SEC this season.
Losers: Butch Jones, Hugh Freeze
Both Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze had some tense moments with reporters in trying to defend the programs they run.
Jones dismissed the notion that Tennessee and Baylor should be compared, even though the university faces a Title IX lawsuit from eight women who allege they were sexually assaulted by student-athletes. The problem Jones has is there are a ton of similarities in terms of what’s being accused and how the situations have been handled institutionally.
Tennessee will have its day in court to defend itself, although that might not be for another two years.
Freeze was also in defense mode now that his program is in trouble with the NCAA over extending impermissible benefits to players. Freeze continued to say he “owned” what went wrong but still placed blame elsewhere.
First, it was the NCAA for investigating Ole Miss during a 3½-year span. Next, it was the fact that some of the violations resulted from the previous coaching staff. Then, Freeze brushed off the four Level I violations by stating three of those didn’t have staff involvement.
If Freeze was truly owning what went wrong at Ole Miss, he wouldn’t need to point the finger elsewhere.
Potential winner: SEC basketball
Various contracts between television networks and sponsors are keeping the SEC Tournament from concluding on the Saturday before Selection Sunday at this time.
But SEC coaches continued to lobby for the change, with Kentucky’s John Calipari among those advocating for the move. Calipari also proposed to make the SEC Tournament a preseason event and give the automatic bid to the regular-season champ, which did not pick up any followers.
The general feeling is that the SEC Tournament eventually will conclude on Saturday, which could give the winner a better seeding opportunity. Calipari previously has complained that the NCAA selection committee has its teams in place no matter the outcome of Sunday’s conference championships.
He has a point. This past season, Kentucky won the SEC Tournament but was seeded fourth in a regional with No. 1 North Carolina and No. 5 Indiana. Texas A&M finished runner-up to Kentucky but received a No. 3 seed.
Loser, but not really: Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Rarely does Saban take a loss. Last week, he took the same defeat twice.
After Saban’s impassioned statement on how satellite camps are bad for college football, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey stated that member institutions would move forward with them now that the conference ban has expired.
Saban then took written and verbal jabs from Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh stated Saban was involved in a “hypocritical act” by denouncing the potential for rules violations with satellite camps, all while former defensive line coach Bo Davis’ alleged rule-breaking has Alabama under NCAA investigation.
At least Saban could make light of it after the fact by asking reporters in jest if they “got any controversy today.” And if he really wants to, Saban can always respond to Harbaugh with an Instagram photo of his hand covered with five national championship rings.