SEC commissioner Greg Sankey might be the most influential person in college football.
He governs the most popular (and successful) conference in the sport and he gained clout with his detractors by how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Yet Sankey opened the 2021 Media Days by going back to his first SEC Media Days.
“When I was standing here in 2015, it was my first time to be the commissioner for SEC Football Media Days, and I opened with a song lyric from Bob Dylan way back in 1963, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” You may recall that Dylan spoke of you in one of the verses in that song: Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen. Keep your eyes wide open, the chance won’t come again. And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no telling who that it’s naming, because the loser now will be later to win, for the times they are a changin’.
If you wonder if I pick songs that have some meaning, I think I got that one right, maybe a little early because the times are changing.”
One thing is for certain; Things changed a lot in the past 12 months. Sankey had to adapt to COVID by changing the schedule format and rescheduling games during a pandemic-recession.
This coming season will be different. No games will be rescheduled.
“We still have roster minimums that exist, just like last year,” Sankey said. “What I’ve identified for consideration among our membership is we remove those roster minimums and you’re expected to play as scheduled. That means your team needs to be healthy to compete, and if not, that game won’t be rescheduled.”
LSU will play UCLA to open the season on September 4th. Two different schools in two completely different conferences. Something that was not the case last season.
With COVID numbers starting to rise, how will the SEC handle different protocols in different conferences?
“A couple aspects. One, there is still communication among the conferences, particularly the five conferences, and our medical leaders. That began last May. It was incredibly beneficial and will continue now. Our campuses who are traveling to those non-conference games are going to be in communication with the host and the host community to understand what policies will apply,” said Sankey.
“What we’ll see, I expect, is municipalities and public health officials, perhaps at the state level, continuing to adjust, which brings me back to the mantra of last year, which is we’re going to prepare to play the season as scheduled, and I’m convinced we’ll move forward to the Labor Day weekend start, unlike last year, but we will have to adapt to the circumstances of COVID-19, of the virus.”
Sankey was also asked about a uniform drug policy for all SEC teams. LSU’s left tackle Dare Rosenthal transferred to Kentucky because of the schools compliance policy and many consider that a recruiting advantage for other schools.
“We’ve talked about that issue for years,” said Sankey. “We have not gone back into that conversation. Our member universities have felt it appropriate to allow each campus to make its own decisions around drug policy. Our universities have policies that extend even beyond our athletics program. So it’s not been a point of conversation.”
Changes that were made outside of the SEC are the new NIL laws. More people suggest that these laws could create a separation between the Power Five and Group of Five schools.
“So are we closer (to a split)? Not in my imagination. I do think we all have to be mindful of the reality in front of us, and as I noted, when President Emmert spoke about the need for change and reimagining the national office role, the conference role, and the campus role, that doesn’t speak to your question, but it does speak to we’re going to have to administrator this differently. That’s likely the next process.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert recently said it was time to think about the power structure in college athletics by giving more power to independent schools and conferences and less to the NCAA.
How can Commissioner Sankey bring more change with so many different voices in the room from each school?
“I’m not convinced you can put everyone in a room and have the needed outcomes. It doesn’t mean everyone’s just detached, but it may be that we have to first identify the principles for change.”
“As I said, I don’t know the path forward,” said Sankey.
“I think some high-level thought focused on specific elements is at the core of this, and we can add, but we’re not going to solve every problem and be able to legislate college athletics programs through the NCAA manual. We can govern some aspects, but 450 pages seems less relevant today than it ever has before.”
During these changing times, Sankey may not have all the answers, but he knows the right questions that need to be asked.