Five Burning questions as we begin the annual SEC Spring Meetings this morning in Destin:
1. Do you think expansion will come up? It’s not on the agenda but it will be the 800-pound gorilla in the room. This will be Commissioner Mike Slive’s first opportunity to meet with his athletics directors, presidents, and coaches face to face and bring them up to date on what the conference is thinking. I met with the Commissioner last night and he said he would have no specifics coming out of these meetings. “What I will say is that if the paradigm in college athletics shifts (i.e., massive Big Ten expansion), we will be prepared to maintain our place in college athletics,” he said. So you can expect the press corps to ask it a bunch of different ways but the answer will not change this week.
Still, there is no question that the SEC has been doing its homework and will have a plan in place should the Big Ten expand to 16 teams later on this year. There was a report that the SEC has had conversations with CBS about specific teams it would invite, a report that the conference denied and my CBS sources denied. Hey, it’s a nervous time. Nothing will be done on expansion here, but it will sure come up.
2. Will the football coaches finally approve an early signing period? This is one of the things the football coaches bring up every year, get excited about, and finally can’t agree upon. College basketball has an early signing period in November for guys who know where they want to go to school and want to get the recruiting process over. There has been talk for years about creating one in December for football that mirrors the junior college signing window. This week it might get done. “So many schools are having guys graduate from high school early and come in January there is really no reason not to do it,” an SEC head coach told me last night. “It just makes too much sense.” The biggest plus to an early signing period is that schools don’t have to keep spending money in January just to “babysit” players who already want to sign. A ton of money is spent just making sure guys who have committed don’t change their minds or have their minds “changed” for them by aggressive recruiting down the stretch.
3. Is Mississippi State’s cowbell going to be banned? The SEC has long had a policy on artificial noisemakers at events but Mississippi State’s cowbell is such a tradition that the league not has cracked down hard on it. That might change this week. Kyle Veazey of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger wrote a great piece about the cowbell and its history.
How would you like to be Scott Stricklin? Stricklin, 40, was just named the athletics director at Mississippi State. He’s a Mississippi State grad. And now he has to walk into a room with his fellow athletics directors and fight for his school’s beloved cowbell.
4. Will basketball eliminate divisional play? Nope but there may be a change in the way the SEC Tournament is seeded. Last season the top four teams in the SEC East went 24-0 against the six teams in the SEC West. But when the conference basketball tournament began in Nashville, Tennessee and Florida had to play on the first day while Ole Miss and Mississippi State, who had lesser records but finished 1-2 in the West, got byes in the first round. That ain’t right. The SEC could solve this problem by following the Big 12 and ACC model and eliminating divisional play for basketball. But a head basketball coach told me yesterday they are going to consider seeding the conference tournament by picking the teams with the best four records regardless of division and awarding them byes in the first round. I personally believe that divisional play, which works well for football, does not translate for basketball because there are so many games, should be eliminated. I don’t think anybody is hanging an “SEC East Basketball Champions” banner in the rafters. It’s just a different sport.
5. Will Alabama get any relief in its football schedule? By now it is a well-known fact that Alabama’s last six SEC opponents in 2010 all have open dates before they play the Crimson Tide. The SEC has not released its official schedule yet because it has been trying to give Alabama some help. But in order for that to happen other schools in the league have to be willing to change THEIR schedules. Maybe one game gets moved but certainly not more than that. The SEC can’t go very far into June without its football schedule being set.
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