The SEC commissioner walked into SEC Media Days on Wednesday like Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, his gun loaded for a fight to change the order of things — just in college sports.
His response to a year of relentless scandal was a sweeping mix of tougher academic requirements for college eligibility, multi-year scholarships and a vastly streamlined NCAA rules manual.
Whether Slive’s bombshells ever become bylaws is hard to say, but they’ll draw coast-to-coast reaction while upping the ante for other conference commissioners, especially those who love to claim compliance piety relative to the SEC.
We’re talking about you, Big Ten boss Jim Delany.
Slive was so on-fire about reform that he skipped the usual brag session about championships and dove straight into change, with a brief quotation of Samuel Clemens to shoot down rumors of his resignation.
The room was abuzz with anticipation for some kind of big announcement, and Slive didn’t disappoint. There was a lot to like in his ideas, but understanding it requires context.
First, there was the year of scandal. From Reggie Bush to Cam Newton to Jim Tressel, college football has emerged from the past 12 months with a sullied name.
And no one with half a brain had delusions of college football being a high-minded utopia to start with.
Second, SEC Media Days marks the unofficial start of college football season in the South, where the sport matters most. About 900 credentialed state, regional and national media came to the Wynfrey Hotel, and Slive had the country’s undivided attention.
Third, this comes about two months after Slive and SEC presidents trumped their coaches and voted in a 25-signee annual limit for football, nixing the increasingly controversial practice of oversigning within the league and promising to take the new policy national.
The renegade league had suddenly jumped out as the reform league, and the commissioner who came into the SEC 10 years ago vowing to eradicate NCAA probation within the league came to this year’s Media Days armed with more boldness.
“We don’t have the luxury of acting like it’s business as usual,” Slive said before quoting NCAA president Mark Emmert: “Intercollegiate athletics has lost the benefit of the doubt.”
From that flowed what Slive called “The National Agenda for Change.“
Slive suggested upping requirements for college eligibility, raising the required GPA in 16 core classes from 2.0 to 2.5 and adding a yearly progress component. The progress component would force prospects to take core classes throughout their high school years rather than cram at the end, which makes sense.
The jump in required GPA is steep, but Slive also proposed reviving the partial qualifier. Why not let partials adapt at a four-year school rather than forcing them to detour to junior college?
Slive also reiterated his support for increasing the value of a scholarship to more fully cover actual college costs but took a huge step forward, suggesting multi-year scholarships.
No more one-year renewables that allow coaches to fix their recruiting mistakes by running off players? It’s an overdue reform that will again put Slive at odds with his league’s coaches.
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier panned the idea Wednesday.
Slive also wants to relax rules governing the use of use modern communication technology in recruiting, saying current bylaws “criminalize essentially harmless behavior.”
Amen from the congregation.
He wants to simplify the recruiting calendar to merely cover days when coaches can recruit off campus. He would allow coaches evaluation and conversation with prospects on the same day.
“Maybe we can make the so-called ‘bump’ history,” he said.
Yes, eliminate the wink-wink factor from NCAA rules. The sooner the better.
Slive also expressed support for NCAA initiatives to streamline enforcement to “focus resources on cases of core importance in a timely fashion.”
In other words, go harder and faster after intentional cheating and spend less time and money pursuing inadvertent violations caused in part by a bloated rules manual.
Hardly a novel concept, but will it catch on in Indianapolis?
Maybe, if more major conference commissioners join Slive’s rhetorical reform-off.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.