HOOVER, Ala. – Each coach gets a platform to discuss his individual program at SEC Media Days, but certain hot topics popped up in many coaches’ media addresses.
This year, three social issues were highlighted across the board – the presence of the Confederate flag, compensation for student athletes, and violence against women.
In 2001, the NCAA banned South Carolina and Mississippi from hosting pre-determined NCAA post-season events because of the presence of the Confederate flag on the states’ Capitol grounds. After South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds, Mississippi remains the only state banned.
“And last week we saw change in Columbia, South Carolina, as the state government acted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol grounds. On that point, I am particularly proud of the leadership demonstrated on our campuses in the states at the center of this debate,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in his opening address to the media.
Sankey said he has not considered applying any official pressure to the state of Mississippi in regards to the Confederate flag, but when looking at championship events, “we evaluate a full range of issues, and the cultural context is a piece of that evaluation.”
During Alabama coach Nick Saban’s Q&A session, a reporter asked him what he thought about Governor Bentley’s recent decision to remove Confederate flags from the state Capitol grounds in Montgomery.
“My opinion is any time we have a symbol that represents something that is mean-spirited or doesn’t represent equal rights for all people, I’m not for having that symbol represent anything that we’re involved in,” Saban replied.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said about the post-season game ban in Mississippi, “I think it’s something that on a national level is getting an awful lot of attention right now, that people are really looking into how we can make things better in the state of Mississippi.”
Cost of attendance
Almost every coach was questioned about the specific cost of attendance the university offers players and how that money has affected recruiting.
Spurred on by a debate about the NCAA making money from the player’s performances and images with no compensation to players, and compounded by the fact that many players may be on scholarship but unable to afford usual school-related costs, each university now provides that cost of attendance money to recruits.
The money is intended to help student-athletes cover school-related costs besides the usual tuition, room, and board. The figures are calculated from Department of Education guidelines, but each school has the final say.
The numbers offered by schools vary. In the SEC, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State all offer more than $5,000 per player, while Georgia, LSU and Florida are under $4,000, according to our news partners at AL.com. Alabama offers only just above $2,000.
The coaches were mainly pleased, calling it a positive thing for student athletes, but most cautioned that there needed to be more regulation and transparency when it comes to calculating the number.
“I think this is an outstanding thing that we’ve done to improve a scholarship for a young man… We’ve always advocated a little better quality of life for the players relative to what the do for their institutions,” Saban said.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema was happy for the players to receive some additional compensation, but cautioned against giving young men the opportunity to make bad decisions. “You give a young man… a lot of money to make bad decisions, things can go sideways in a New York minute.”
Almost across the board, coaches said that offering the cost of attendance has not been a recruiting tool and has not been a topic of conversation between schools and potential players.
“Serious misconduct” transfer rule
Several coaches had something to say about the new transfer rule, banning players who were “subject to official university or athletics department disciplinary action at any time during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution … due to serious misconduct” from transferring to an SEC school.
Specifically, “serious misconduct” is defined as “sexual assault, domestic violence or other forms of sexual violence.”
Recently, Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor was dismissed from the team after he was arrested on domestic violence charges. The woman who accused hit later recanted her accusations, but this wasn’t Taylor’s first run-in with the law. He was kicked out of Georgia’s football program last year after being accused of choking and hitting his girlfriend.
When asked about the Taylor situation, Saban said, “First of all, we don’t at all condone any kind of domestic violence or any kind of violent behavior toward women. But I do think that this is an emotional issue that’s very, very complicated.”
Saban said he does not regret “giving Taylor an opportunity,” but said that he hoped the league will be able to work together better in the future to manage these problems.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt said it’s hard to be in charge of 125 young men year after year and, “…if a guy makes a mistake, there’s not a book you can open that says, ‘if he does this, you do that.'” Richt added that until you know the circumstances of the situation, it’s hard to make a wise decision about a player.