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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

 

ATLANTA — When the Southeastern Conference commissioner steps to the microphone at the annual Football Media Days — regardless of whether they're in downtown Atlanta or in a Birmingham suburb — you can expect some pompoms on the circumstances.

It may be billed as the state of the conference, but Greg Sankey, like Mike Slive before him and Roy Kramer before him, is happy to focus on the great of the conference.

SEC Media Days have become the CiCi's Pizza of college football. It seems like a great idea because you are starving for something you love. When you get there, you are ready — fork or pompom in hand — to devour everything in sight. Meat lover's pizza. Jumbo Fisher coach-speak. Breadsticks. Ed Orgeron mumbling. Bad salad. The lesser Stoops.

So we saddled up for the noontime state of the union of the conference we love, we hate and we love that everyone including Danny Kanell loves to hate.

Sankey, as has become tradition, listed the national champions from the teams in the SEC. He praised the community service of the athletes of the teams in the SEC. He referenced examples of pleasing changes from the last year incorporated by the leaders of the teams in the SEC.

Proving there's plenty of money for the aesthetics of athletics, Sankey said there will be added replays and added officials in various sports and time clocks for TV commercial breaks for football.

There's an SEC channel on Sirius-XM up and running, and the SEC Network is available in 130 countries. Even a shoutout to Paul Finebaum, who signed a contract extension.

You get the idea.

And that's OK. If you are not going to trumpet your success, who will? (Other than the hundreds of us yahoos huddled around Fisher singing the empty praises of Jameis Winston and Stoops saying he and his program are tired of 'coming close' at Kentucky.)

But for Sankey, there needs to be more than the annual classic rock jokes — this year it was a Tom Petty reference — from a league that is happy to share the details of its athletic success.

He addressed the one issue on which the league has taken a stand, albeit a late one following similar decisions from some of the other high-profile conferences.

"The SEC continued its leadership position when our membership in Destin voted unanimously to expand the conference's serious misconduct rule to apply to all incoming student-athletes," Sankey said, "establishing clear expectations for young people seeking to participate in intercollegiate athletics on an SEC campus be they incoming freshmen or transfer student-athletes."

Cool, and that's a good step.

But it's only a step if there's another and another and another. And for a league as strong and as in demand as the SEC, those steps should be made confidently and quickly.

"I commend the league for taking a stance on domestic violence, because it is a scourge on our society and our young people," former SEC coach and current Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year committee president Bill Curry said Monday on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 the Zone. "I guarantee you it will help at least one young person make a better decision because of the impact it could have on his future and his ability to play in the SEC.

"But is that enough? I think the league has a chance to be at the front in ways that could help all of college athletics. Uniformity in drug rules and recruiting rules and ... I think the SEC is moving in that direction."

Sankey acknowledged that the gambling question is coming to college football sooner rather than later. It will be compounded that state laws will be different across the 11-state footprint of the league and how the league and schools will split revenue starting as soon as potentially this year, since Mississippi already has legalized sports betting.

The SEC has made a positive first step, but the future of the league — and potentially of college sports in general — could and almost assuredly would be improved with more uniformity, especially since the NCAA is somewhere between the three blind mice and the three "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" monkeys.

Think of the things that need to be fixed in college sports. Sure, the league's schools have myriad issues with different outcomes depending on the standards of each school, be it drug-testing or policies on arrests or truly and effectively dealing with concussions.

"The importance of integrity in college athletics is underscored by what has transpired in college basketball over the past 12 months," Sankey said referring to the FBI investigations and scandals.

When addressing the gambling issues, Sankey said plainly, "The integrity of our games is of the utmost importance."

So, too, should be direction for a league that is happy to promote how much it finishes on top.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6343.

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