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December 4, 2015

Greg Sankey

Atlanta, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey. We'll ask Commissioner Sankey for opening remarks and then take your questions.

COMMISSIONER SANKEY: If you'll give me just two seconds here.

I'm learning the pace on being the commissioner on Championship Weekend for the Southeastern Conference. It's a different pace than that of the executive associate commissioner or the associate commissioner and a bit different pace than being commissioner of the Southland Conference, as you may imagine, if any of you have engaged in that research.

As you might expect, just a couple opening comments. One, it's great to be here. It seems a bit like yesterday I was in Nashville and was at a press conference being named as the eighth commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, but it seems like a decade ago at the same time. A lot has happened.

I want to congratulate University of Florida and Jim McElwain and his team and Nick Saban and the University of Alabama's football team on the accomplishment of earning division championships. That's not an easy task. We don't give away division championships. Those are earned. Congratulations to both of them.

We have ten Bowl teams that will be playing after tomorrow. Obviously, there's a game that will determine exactly what happens. So I'll avoid guessing and speculating. We've got a great tradition in the BCS Championship Game. We had a team in the semifinals last year, and our champion, I think, has proven over time that it merits involvement inclusion as we determine the National Champion.

One of the things that I think is helpful to those of you that are communicating with the public is we will have enhanced security measures around our events this weekend, starting today. At the FanFare, Georgia World Congress Center, you'll see a more visible law enforcement presence. Tomorrow entering the game, what I'll call for shorthand purposes, NFL standard security. Clear bag policy in effect. A little bit larger clear bag than what the NFL has used. That relates to some of our vendors, and still clear so we can see.

The idea that bringing less into the venue is going to help the traffic flow is true. Arriving earlier will be of benefit to people. Having patience. But at the same time, we've got great partners in the Georgia World Congress Center and in the Georgia Dome, who are accustomed, obviously, because of the NFL games here, to moving people through.

I'm going to stop there. Your questions are probably more interesting than my opening statements. I'll be happy to entertain any questions.

Q. I'm not going to ask you to list every place you've been, but how many places have you been since you took the job?
COMMISSIONER SANKEY: Since I took the job, I've been on every campus at least once and some multiple times. I think the most on any single campus is four visits, and you can just multiply that out. Aspen, Indianapolis, Chicago a few times, Atlanta numerous occasions, Charlotte multiple, multiple times, Dallas. The song "I've Been Everywhere Man," the Johnny Cash song, not quite, but seemingly close.

Q. What is it you try to get done on these campuses when you go for the first time?
COMMISSIONER SANKEY: Good question. The campus visits is twofold. One is going to football games. I've been to a football game on each of the SEC's campuses. When I see Florida play tomorrow, I think it means I'll have seen every team play twice. That's just familiarity, and I'm the Commissioner, so an opportunity to take a different view of the world at those games.

The more substantive visits have been the on campus visits. I think I'm through eight of those. I had hoped to be through all, but there's only so much time. I've used those opportunities to meet with campus leaders, sometimes the entire president or chancellor's cabinet, depending on schedules, the athletics director one-on-one, faculty representative.

One of the more meaningful parts -- and all of those are meaningful conversations -- I've taken time with the senior leadership team at each athletic department, to say to the senior associates, the executive associates, the associate athletics directors, what do I need to know? What do I need to be thinking about? What's on your mind? Where do we have it right? Where do we maybe miss some things in the conference office? Great dialogue.

And then any number of student-athlete interactions. I'm trying to be intentional about that. Some at LSU, I began at 7:00 a.m. with probably 40 young people, their entire student-athlete advisory committee. And then I had lunch with their football leadership team, if you will, the young men who are the leaders on that football team, really what was a great dialogue. It was during their open week, so it was a good mood at that point.

And then I've had one-on-one interactions with student-athletes. Da'Shawn Hand, I think, at Alabama. I was at a leadership class there, and he's a part of that. Sophomore leadership class at University of Alabama that I spoke to, he asked me, what two teams will play in the SEC Championship Game? That was the second, third week of the season. I said the East Division champion and the West Division champion. He pressed further. He demanded an answer.

But what was great about that, Tony, was learning that he's majoring, I think, in civil engineering. It interrupts the narrative that you're not able to be an engineer and play major college football. It's the Josh Dobbs story, and we've asked those stories repeatedly on campus.

That's been part of the fun. Part of the fun is getting to know some young people in a new capacity.

Q. I know this is beyond your purview, but as a leader, what do you think of the trend we've been seeing that more and more coaching positions are coming up available during the year rather than the end of the year? Is there any concern for you on that?
COMMISSIONER SANKEY: The observation we've made for years is the notion of an early signing period would create momentum in that direction. That's an opinion. That's not a research-based fact.

Now we've gone through a cycle where we've seen it before, where coaching decisions were made. Florida made a decision during the season last year. Not all of our decisions were made. So Steve at South Carolina decided to step aside early in the season, and Gary's announcement was early. Those were, I think, really unique circumstances.

And then there's the speculation. I'm probably not an expert on what's happened in other conferences. One of the aspects of my life is I'm much more focused on the Southeastern Conference and much less focused on what happens around me. I do think we need to be attentive to that, the disruption around the team, understanding there's more and more intensity maybe in recruiting. I think it's a cautionary note as it relates to the sanctioning of earlier recruiting, especially potentially moving that National Letter of Intent signing date earlier.

And just to explain that, if you've got to sign a class of people potentially in mid-December, that's one of the ideas. You'd better have people in place quickly to allow a new staff to recruit. That's not happening now. We've got some of that earlier behavior in there, but we do need to be attentive to that.

Q. There are going to be 5-7 Bowl teams this year. Do you have thoughts about where is this headed? Why do we want to reward teams with losing records?
COMMISSIONER SANKEY: Well, I'm focused on 6-6 teams. The reality is, when we enter the season, the expectation is, if you can earn six victories, you have a Bowl opportunity. That's the expectation.

There's a proliferation of Bowl games. Probably a lot of reasons for that. I haven't unpacked them all. It doesn't seem to me a healthy direction to continue to encourage 5-7 teams participating in Bowl games. It's a reward. I think the phrase in the NCAA manual is a deserving winning team. We were at 6-5. We added a game and went to 6-6. I think that's an appropriate level. I very much want to protect that access point at 6-6 as programs develop and have opportunities to continue their season.

But I'm not an advocate that 5-7 is where we should end long term. It was a fix this year. It was a potential for several years we might not be able to fill Bowls, but I think we have to look at new strategies for managing the number of Bowls.

Q. Commissioner, does the SEC have an appetite to reach beyond the borders of the United States?
COMMISSIONER SANKEY: We already do, literally. The issue is about playing games beyond the border of the United States? We do that during the summertime on summer tours.

Should our institutions be relocated games outside the borders? Am I getting to the essence of the question? I approach it that way because I do think it's important to acknowledge that there is global interest in the Southeastern Conference literally, when you look at our rosters across our teams.

In my visit with LSU's football team, I'm having a really deep conversation with a young man from Australia on that football team. So we do reach beyond the borders. Our institutions can decide right now if they'd like to schedule football games in different places.

Yet in media days, my observation was that the strength of this conference is in our communities. I think people will likely be careful about how they would consider some international opportunities. It's exciting. It's interesting. It creates momentum, and I respect the people that have done that. But we've had other points of focus right now. Maybe in the future, that will become more of a topic.

Q. Greg, you talked a little bit about this. Losing some coaches like Steve Spurrier, Gary Pinkel, Mark Richt, what does that do to the league losing that experience and having that kind of leadership gone from the conference?
COMMISSIONER SANKEY: I think each one of them brought something different. Obviously, Steve could fill a reporter's notebook depending on his mood. We probably lost a few quips in there. Gary had been a steady leader of Missouri's program and had what I think is really an outstanding four years. This year was really difficult for a number of reasons, but won two Eastern Division championships and played in Atlanta the previous two years.

And Mark is someone I respect as a person, his values, how he approaches his work. He had a wonderful run of 15 years at the University of Georgia. I have enough trust and respect for their leadership and Jere Morehead and Greg McGarity that they're looking to the future. So we're now into the future. That's appropriate. That happens in programs. In the SEC, there are not a lot of people who are head coaches for 15 years.

Now, collectively, that's a significant loss of experience, but I think you've seen a hire at Missouri that was internal over the last year. Having been an internal candidate myself, that's a smile. But then there are other searches still taking place, and I think what you understand is that people are attracted to the head coaches in the Southeastern Conference. It's clearly a great place to coach. It's a platform to access a National Championship, to be challenged in your profession unlike any other conference.

For those reasons, when we do have coaching change, I'm always confident that we'll have great candidates who will fill those roles.

Q. We've seen a lot of different stories written about cord cutting, cord shaving. What has ESPN kind of advised you on how that could impact the SEC Network just from a growth and revenue potential, and how do you try to combat it?
COMMISSIONER SANKEY: The truth about the SEC Network in the face of the stories about cord cutting and cord shaving -- I hadn't used cord shaving in a while. Those of us who are older and remember pre-cordless Norelco days may remember a different use of cord shaving, but I digress.

First year of the SEC Network, we're 16 months in, we've seen an increase in household subscribers during that period. So in the face of national cord cutting, cord shaving, we've seen more attention and more interest in the SEC Network. I think that's a statement about the interest around the Southeastern Conference. So that's good.

But given our relationships, not only with ESPN and the SEC Network but with CBS, we've been in regular communication about what do these stories mean? What are the strategies? What technologies are out there? How do we continue to allow access to our contests to feature our universities and still generate the revenue that flows from our media contracts to support our programs?

You should know those are regular conversations. I think we've got the advantage of having two great partners who will stay ahead of that curve. But change is rapid, and they've got to be attentive to that. We'll be in communication regularly on the issues.

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