TUSCALOOSA — Once again, the power brokers of the Southeastern Conference will gather in sunny Destin, Florida, this week to discuss several pressing topics which affect collegiate athletics today.
The goal of the four-day SEC Spring Meetings is to further improve what is already the nation’s strongest athletic conference.
And, just maybe, by doing that, many hope the SEC might provide the rest of the country a model to follow in regard to even broader issues like the advent of widespread satellite camps and negative student-athlete behavior which have recently brought controversy and discord to collegiate athletics.
A year into his tenure as SEC commissioner, Greg Sankey has continued to voice the conference’s concern over how much satellite camps — which were briefly banned by the Division I council before the NCAA board of directors overturned the ruling in late April — could negatively alter college football recruiting.
And even though the NCAA has seemingly legitimized the practice of Division I coaching staffs traveling far and wide to participate as “guest” coaches at strategically-located camps, the decision to overturn the ban was done more so to allow for greater discussion and review of everything involved.
Which is why many expect it to be a major topic of discussion among SEC administrators this week.
“The concerns are still there,” Sankey said told The Associated Press last week. “When it was a relatively small practice, it was fine. … But when I talk to our coaches who now have 10-15 calls a day, it starts to become an unhealthy activity.
“And it really is about recruiting. I’m hoping that if the solutions are identified by Sept. 1, we’ll certainly talk about different strategies next week that are attentive to the full scope of issues here.”
Other major topics likely on the agenda this week include:
Satellite camps/ Recruiting calendar
Although satellite camps have been going on for years, mostly among lower level programs that are unable to draw the type of recruits major Division I programs can to their campus, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh brought the practice to the forefront with his sensationalized “Swarm Tour” last summer.
After the ban was lifted, Harbaugh doubled down by formalizing plans for his coaching staff to reportedly participate in 35 satellite camps in the month of June, including at locales as far away as American Samoa and Australia, according to Mlive.com.
While the SEC has since rescinded its own rule forbidding satellite camps, and many SEC coaches are in the process of scheduling camps, there are still many who disagree with the practice all together, notably Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
“I’ve also brought up the fact that if we’re going to change how we recruit, and have satellite camps all over the country that coaches are going to be required to go to, kind of like we went through 25 years ago when you used to go to college all-star games all summer,” Saban said May 18th at the Region’s Tradition Pro-Am in Birmingham. “My wife was beating me over the head and I could never see the players that I coached because we were going to all-star games everywhere in the country. You can’t do that any more, but now we’re going to do satellite camps, and every high school that has a prospect is going to have a satellite camp, and every coach in the country is going to be expected to be there.
“All these things happening are going to create a circumstance that this is time we should be spending with our own players.”
Student-athlete time demands
The topic of satellite camps inevitably crosses over into the topic of undue time demands placed both coaches and student-athletes, especially in reference to Harbaugh’s decision to hold a week of spring practice at Florida-based sports factory IMG Academy.
Last week at its own spring meetings, the Pac 12 proposed a rule to prevent its own institutions from holding similar type events during the period of time traditionally deemed as “spring break” for colleges around the country.
The proposal was part of a 22-page report that, according to CBSSports.com, identified particular time demand issues for student-athletes, and included other smaller proposals such as forcing schools to designate “rest days” with no required athletic activities, as well as three days off per week during the offseason.
The SEC could follow suit and create its own parameters and restrictions on when and how student-athletes are allowed to be utilized during team offseasons, with the potential for much stricter language in an effort to help push the topic to the NCAA stage next winter.
Coaching staff numbers
When asked what particular topic he’d like to see addressed at the Spring Meetings, Saban was quick to bring up the ongoing topic of adding an additional on-field coach to SEC staffs, to make it an even 10.
“I also think there’s a place for 10 coaches on a staff,” Saban said last week. “I think the numbers just work out better with a special teams coach where you have nine and a special teams coach.”
Not having a specific coach for special teams proved detrimental to Alabama’s staff this winter when longtime Tide assistant Bobby Williams was taken off the field and moved to the newly-created position of “assistant to the head coach” when Saban hired co-offensive line coach Brent Key.
The move also forced longtime Alabama running backs coach Burton Burns to take on the added responsibility of coordinating special teams this upcoming season.
Player behavior/Baylor reaction
Last, but certainly not least, what could turn out to be the most discussed topic could be student-athlete discipline in light of the recent scandal at Baylor which resulted in wholesale changes to the school’s administration, including the dismissal of wildly-successful head coach Art Briles.
Last year the SEC created the “Jonathan Taylor rule” to restrict programs from adding player transfers of anyone that might have a history of violence in their past, especially if they’ve been dismissed from another program for acts such as domestic violence or sexual assault. The rule came after former Alabama and Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor was dismissed by the Tide following a second domestic violence arrest last March.
There was discussion last year of expanding the rule to include high school prospects, which could be the obvious addition this year.
Though with the amount of negative national attention the Baylor scandal has brought to college football, don’t be surprised if the talk about player discipline is expanded to even broader terms this week.