Colombia, Mon — We’re talking about meetings! No game! No game! We’re talking about meetings!
To paraphrase famous philosopher and basketball hall of famer Allen Iverson, we are actually talking about meetings. Some pretty important ones in the world of college sports.
For the first time in three years, Southeastern Conference leaders will convene next week in Destin, Fla. for their annual spring meetings.
The league hasn’t held these meetings in person since 2019 – thanks, COVID! – which means there will be a lot of new faces at the tables in Destin. Since the last spring in-person meeting, 12 of the 14 SEC schools have hired a new person in one or more of their three most visible positions: athletics director, soccer coach, men’s basketball coach. Only one school has hired someone in all three positions since the 2019 meetings: that would be Missouri, now led by AD Desiree Reed-Francois and coaches Eli Drinkwitz and Dennis Gates. Four other SEC schools have since hired new coaches in the two major sports: Florida, State of Louisiana, State of Mississippi, and South Carolina.
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Three years ago, the main topics of conversation among SEC executives revolved around upcoming rule changes for name, image and likeness opportunities for athletes, the newly created transfer portal and schools selling alcohol at sporting events. The first two topics are sure to draw more attention in Destin next week. The SEC meetings will have a significant impact on the future of the league – and that of collegiate sports in general.
But football comes first. After all is The S. There is an urgent need for the conference to agree on a new model for the football plan, especially with Oklahoma and Texas set to join membership by 2025, if not sooner. The SEC has analyzed more than 40 planning options, Commissioner Greg Sankey recently told ESPN’s Pete Thamel.
Before figuring out who is playing who, the league must decide whether to stay with eight conference games or switch to nine. (The Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 play nine league games.) A move to nine conference games is good for fan interest, ticket sales, and TV ratings, but could dilute the SEC’s college football playoff candidate pool, especially if Sankey fails to persuade his fellow conference commissioners to expand the current four-team playoff field.
As such, the SEC needs a planning format, preferably one that provides more variety from year to year. Under the current East-West divisional model, teams rotate 12 years between the other division’s hosting teams. Mizzou, who is about to start his 11th season in the SEC, is making his first trip to Auburn this fall.
Ross Dellenger of Thamel and Sports Illustrated have both reported that the league has focused on two models: a 1-7 model for an eight-game plan with an annual game against a fixed rival and then seven games against rotating opponents; and a 3-6 model under a nine-game schedule with three games against permanent opponents and six rotating enemies.
If the league favors regional/historical rivals for Missouri, the 3-6 model could mean annual games against Arkansas, then a two-man combo of Oklahoma, Texas or Texas A&M. Or what about two regional opponents, say Arkansas and Oklahoma, and a third wild card to even out the competition, maybe Vanderbilt, Kentucky or South Carolina?
How will the SEC determine its participants in the championship game going forward? Earlier this month, the NCAA Division I Council allowed conferences to abolish football divisions to determine who plays in their championship games. The ACC and Mountain West quickly eliminated their divisions. Will the SEC lag far behind? Trainers and ADs will certainly make their case in Destin.
The SEC will even consider a postseason-only SEC playoff, Thamel reported, in which up to eight teams will compete in a mini-tournament to determine the national champion.
SEC executives will have more on their minds next week. Does the league have a consensus plan for reform on both the transfer portal and NIL? The one-off transfer waiver combined with NIL endorsements ushered in an era of (largely) unchecked agency in collegiate sports, sparking a war of words at the top of the food chain between Alabama’s Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher just last week. Tip for Drinkwitz: If you take a seat between the two buses, bring a helmet and pads with you.
Two more kick-off times for Missouri football were announced on Thursday. Both the September 10 game at Kansas State (ESPN2) and the September 17 home game against Abilene Christian (SEC Network+) begin at 11 a.m. MU’s September 1 season opener against Louisiana Tech is still scheduled for 7 p.m. on ESPNU. Missouri’s regular season finale against Arkansas on Nov. 25 will begin at 2:30 p.m. on CBS, the network announced this week. … On Sunday, the Tigers added a signing of junior college defenseman Les “LJ” Hewitt. Originally from Samford, Fla., Hewitt spent time at two junior colleges in Mississippi and plans to enroll at Mizzou in time for the 2022 season. He will add depth to the secondary school this fall.
This had to happen in an election year: Tennessee Martin quarterback Dresser Winn has agreed to promote a district attorney candidate, Colin Johnson, in what is believed to be the first NIL-related campaign endorsement by a college athlete. Should we expect one of the many contenders for the Missouri US Senate seat to seek the endorsement of a Mizzou athlete? Stay tuned. … For the second straight offseason, Mizzou Baseball is looking for a pitching coach. Mitchell Plassmeyer, who was promoted in January following the death of pitching coach Brian DeLunas, has left Columbia to take a minor league pitching coordinator position with the Orioles. … St. Louis’ Tony Vitello (De Smet) was named SEC Baseball Coach of the Year after leading No. 1 Tennessee to an SEC-best 25-5 league record. The Vols are the big favorites to win the College World Series at odds of 5/2, followed by Oregon State at 15/2 and Arkansas and Oklahoma State at 14/1, by betonline.ag. …. Why do university athletes change? According to a 2021 NCAA study that surveyed nearly 10,000 collegiate athletes, 8% said they would likely transfer in the 2021-22 school year, and the most commonly cited reason was mental health: 61% at women and 40% in men. Conflicts with a coach or teammates were the second most common answer (56% for women, 34% for men), followed by playing time (34% for women, 36% for men).