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Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DESTIN, Fla. --- Even with one of their longtime, hot-button issues resolved, SEC coaches and officials face no shortage of pertinent topics at the league's annual spring meetings this week.

Whether to play eight- or nine-game conference football schedules --- a frequent debate at these meetings the past two years --- was settled when the SEC decided last month to stick with eight. That cleared the table for the league to tackle topics related to a significant change expected in college athletics this summer.

The meetings, which convened Tuesday and run through Friday, unfold amid expectations that the NCAA Division I Board of Directors will vote in August to give the SEC and four other conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) autonomy to enact rule changes that would enable the 65 schools in those lucrative leagues to provide increased benefits and resources to their athletes.

How such autonomy would work, and in what ways the newfound power would be used, tops the SEC's agenda this week.

A consensus seems to have emerged about what the power conferences would want to do first: increase the value of athletic scholarships to the full cost of attendance. Current scholarships cover tuition, room, board, fees and books, and the difference between that and the full cost of attendance likely would result in stipends of several thousand dollars per year.

"I think some sort of stipend is fair," Florida football coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday. "I don't think any of our guys are starving, but at the same time, to be able to have some spending money would be good."

Said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier: "We're hopeful that in the restructuring process our student-athlete football players will have a little bit better lifestyle."

Georgia coach Mark Richt said he believes covering the full cost of attendance "is a very good answer." He didn't elaborate, stopping himself because, he said, he isn't supposed to comment on the issue as "things are pending."

Muschamp said money could be made available for players to travel home in emergencies and for parents to travel long distances to games.

"As much money as we're making, we should be able to afford it," Muschamp said.

The power conferences also might want to exert autonomous control over other player benefits and over rules regarding transfer restrictions and relationships with agents.

Aside from autonomy, key issues at this week's meetings:

  • The SEC Network, which is scheduled to launch Aug. 14 and is trying to negotiate distribution deals with cable and satellite providers;
  • The College Football Playoff, which begins with the coming season, with the SEC hoping to put two teams in position to make the four-team field;
  • The impact of nonconference scheduling on the league's playoff chances;
  • The possibility of an early signing period in football recruiting, an idea many coaches say they favor in theory if difficult details could be worked out;
  • The quality of men's basketball in the SEC outside of the top few teams.

When the SEC decided last month to maintain eight-game conference football schedules, it added a requirement that, starting in 2016, each school must have at least one game per season against an opponent from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12. Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tuesday it would be "better for the fans, better for the players" if SEC teams went farther and played all of their nonconference games against opponents from those four leagues.

SEC basketball tourney sites: The SEC will play its men's tournament in St. Louis in 2018 and in Tampa, Fla., in 2022, conference commissioner Mike Slive announced. The tournament previously was committed to Nashville for all other years from 2015 through 2025.

Game time set: Georgia's Sept. 13 football game at South Carolina will kick off at 3:30 p.m. on CBS as the network's first SEC telecast of the season, it was announced Tuesday. Also, as usual, Georgia's game against Florida in Jacksonville will be televised on CBS, with a 3:30 p.m. start Nov. 1.


May 28, 2014


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