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December 2, 2016

Greg Sankey

Atlanta, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: We're ready to begin with Commissioner Sankey. He'll have a few opening remarks and then be glad to take your questions.

GREG SANKEY: Good afternoon. It's good to be back in Atlanta. Great to be back in the Georgia Dome. Obviously, we're here for game number 25, game number 23 in this Dome. It seems hard to believe it won't be here for us next year. It's a wonderful home.

We're excited about the game. I think you'd expect me to say that. We've got an important game regardless. It's an important game because we're playing for a Southeastern Conference Championship, and we're looking forward to seeing that play out on the field.

A couple of interesting notes for the weekend. Our opening coin toss, you may have heard, will include the commissioner at the time, Roy Kramer, along with the two head coaches, Steve Spurrier and Gene Stallings. Just an interesting piece of the weekend, we've invited back every one of our game MVPs, 23 of those individuals since Danny Wuerffel won the award twice. We honored a number of them at lunch. I think there's 17 in attendance. Obviously, there are a number who have activities over the weekend still and some others who are awaiting the birth of a child in one case. Mike Slive will also be back for this year's game. So it's a celebration.

We're looking forward to next year when we move just down the street to Mercedes Benz stadium with a ten-year agreement. If we exercise all the options, we could be here until 2043, and that's a remarkable run for a great game.

We're also celebrating a bit Vern Lundquist. Vern has been the voice for the SEC for the last 17 years, and he will conclude his broadcasting tenure with the SEC on CBS tomorrow afternoon. We had a bit of a chance to celebrate him and the special person that he is and his ability to tell our story. So we'll look forward to seeing how he ends it tomorrow.

We've got 11 Bowl eligible teams plus one that appears to have an opportunity under the NCAA's policy for filling Bowls that may be left open, a 5-7 team. 12 would be the highest number of teams we've had participating in Bowl games. Go back to 2014, we had the 12 number. We had seven teams in the AP top ten at one time or another. Obviously, the season has played out in an interesting way.

I'd remark that, when you look at each of our teams, they go into these four and five-week segments of conference play that just are rigorous, and they take a bit of a toll. We've had teams experience injuries. We set a high standard for ourselves with expectations of the number of top ten teams.

This time of the year, I think we still are the highest quality of college football, and as I said, we'll look for a great game, and we'll look for a return to the highly, highly ranked teams.

One of the new pieces was collaborative video replay. That was an experimental rule allowed. We centralized that in our office in Birmingham. We have had just about an uptick of .3 reviews per game. Our length of review has gone down to be consistent with the averages over the years. The first three or four weeks, we were a bit higher. Obviously, when you have an experimental rule, you can do all the preparation, but we became more efficient as the year went along.

This year in Atlanta, we did something a bit different with student-athletes. We brought in two student-athletes from each of our universities for a career tour, if you will, and invited them to be a part of visiting with leadership at Turner Broadcasting, at Chick-Fil-A, at Spalding Jackson, a PR firm, just to start to explore how we might facilitate their transition into a career. Most of them are seniors, a few juniors, just talking about what does it look like at the next iteration in your life. We will look candidly to see how we can expand that number. It was a good experiment and great feedback from our student-athletes.

On the football front, probably as we head into January, the NCAA meetings, things that will be on people's minds, one are the time demand or time expectations discussion on our student-athletes. We expect to see some legislation on that issue during the NCAA convention. We've been very open, I think, as a group of five conferences, autonomy five conferences, talking about those issues.

There was also clearly a discussion about football recruiting that will be front and center. Not so much in January, I think the discussion will be, but the action at the NCAA council level in April, that at least presents the notion of an early signing date, much earlier than we have considered before, one that's identified as being in June, earlier recruiting activity, and I think it is vitally important that we not simply react to some concerns without full consideration of the impact of the changes that have been introduced.

As we've had early signing periods in basketball, we've seen summer basketball recruiting become more and more vital. We're not interested in seeing that in football. We'd like, as I identified last year, to look at how we oversee camps, particularly the satellite camp issue. There's an interesting policy that's been introduced for consideration there.

I'm concerned that, if you contemplate young people signing National Letters of Intent in the summer between their junior and senior year in high school and then you see coaching changes in season -- I've experienced that. So I can go back to when the SEC administered the National Letter of Intent program on behalf of the Collegiate Commissioners Association. We had a prominent head coach who left one very high profile job for another, and I had 106 voicemails the next day about National Letter of Intent issues around four signees.

When you multiply that out when you have these changes, I want us to be very clear and thoughtful about our consideration before we simply move that signing date back.

One of the things that we have done as a league is we worked with ESPN to actually reduce the number of Thursday night games that are required under our contract. That will be one per year. We announced that previously. That will be a Thanksgiving night game. We might have other games where it just works and our institutions may be asked to play on Thursday night. We had a Friday night game this year, Mississippi State played at Brigham Young University late central time, but we've not had conversations about transitioning to regular occurrences of Friday night football in the Southeastern Conference.

We're interested in supporting our high school football friends, and, in fact, had a meeting with all of our state high school athletic association directors last spring. That was a topic at the forefront of their mind, and we value that relationship. That's not been a point of conversation for us.

With that, I'll stop reading through my script and see what's on your mind.

Q. Greg, do you anticipate next year in the league of having, I guess, a procedure in place for postponements to avoid what happened this year?
GREG SANKEY: I do. Our policies right now give me the authority to postpone a game in consultation with the host institution athletic director, and then the two institutions have to agree. Our policies don't grant the Commissioner that authority.

Around the time of the interrupted game this year, we had a presidents meeting. They were very clear to me to come back with a policy that would ultimate grant the authority to place the game -- and I think there are iterations between where we are now and just the Commissioner deciding that we can identify as solutions. We have an athletics directors meeting in about a week and a half. It will be our first time to gather together and talk about those ideas and recommendations, but we'll have a policy in place.

Q. (No microphone)?
GREG SANKEY: I wouldn't foreclose that. We know from last year, when we had South Carolina moving to LSU, that's really challenging because you're trying to move two teams. You've got two teams, two flights, two charters, two sets of hotels. So just our experience last year, it's very clear that moving a game to a campus is an easier process, but I wouldn't foreclose on that particular solution.

Q. What does it mean to you to have these two -- personally have these two teams that played in the first SEC Championship game playing in the 25th with you as the commissioner now?
GREG SANKEY: Well, maybe I'll break that off in parts. This is a meaningful weekend for me personally. Last year I know that I woke up at 3:00 a.m. with no assistance of Dr. Pepper or coffee, just there's a buzz about the weekend. So to be commissioner of this conference on football championship game weekend is an energizing experience.

When we go back to the beginning of the season, you have no idea who might be here, and it is an interesting twist on history that the two teams that played in the first are now here in the 25th. But you know what the good news is? There will be a 26th as well. So we'll look to see who might be here next year in the new stadium.

Q. What do you anticipate being the relationship with the Belk Bowl moving forward now in regards to the LGBT concerns?
GREG SANKEY: We've had conversations with our membership. Both us and the ACC have that contractual relationship. Our contractual relationship lasts for six years. We've communicated with the Belk Bowl, and they've provided assurances about having a hospitable environment in that city for our team and our fans.

If you remember, despite what's happened at the state level, Charlotte was a community that was trying to make sure the proper protections were in place, and I think we'll reflect that when the game occurs. We've got a six-year agreement, and obviously, we'll continue to pay attention to circumstances in the state, and when it's time for renewal, that will be a piece of the conversation.

Q. (No microphone)?
GREG SANKEY: At this point, that is our intent, but we'll continue to have the conversations that we've had this fall after the NCAA's action.

Q. Greg, do you find -- do you think it's at all detrimental to the league's football that, when one team, i.e. Alabama, has put together this amazing reign of dominance, it kind of usually assures you've got a team in the championship mix, but I'm wondering if a bit more parity might be better for the league than one team sort of dominating.
GREG SANKEY: Well, no. I can tell you that around this league there are coaches trying to figure out how to beat Alabama, and when a team is ranked first and has had the sustained success, I think that effort makes everyone better. I would use the phrase you often hear, a rising tide lifts all boats, and I want to be careful about using the word tide in there, but I think you understand.

I also want to go back to the observation that 11 of our teams are Bowl eligible under the 6-6 record. I think you've seen some progress on teams that we were looking for improvement. No, we don't have four teams in the top ten or four teams in the top five. I expect we will. We've had some coaching transitions. We've got young quarterbacks in place.

I think, if you look of late, one of the interesting things is we haven't had quarterbacks or the kind of players where you look and say, it seems like they've been there eight years, the freshman who starts or the sophomore who starts and continues to play. So I'm encouraged by what I see even though we're not in that usual circumstance for the Southeastern Conference of four of our teams being in the top ten.

Q. You basically answered that question, but a lot of people did look at this as sort of a down year for the SEC other than Alabama. How did you perceive it, or how do you perceive it?
GREG SANKEY: I think every year of football in the Southeastern Conference is a great year of football in the Southeastern Conference, and you understand, in the competitive arena, anything can happen. Go out there, and I was at games where I thought an outcome might go one direction, and it went the complete opposite direction.

I think Will Muschamp at media days made the observation that, other than the NFL, the margin of victory in our games in the SEC is closer here than any other grouping of institutions or teams. It's just competitive. And you realize that a fumble here -- I think the intensity of focus on officiating is such because those margins of victory are so close. We'll be back at the level we are.

I would remind and caution everyone that you're judging us against the standard which we set, and we set that standard over ten years -- actually, probably 12 years in a continuing manner. We've got one year that we'll talk about and we'll analyze, but our expectations for excellence don't change at all.

Q. Greg, going back to Ron's question on the Florida-LSU game, you guys and both the institutions got quite a bit of flack on that. Is there anything you wish you could have done differently?
GREG SANKEY: You can't prevent a storm. We'd had conversations previously about policies, and we had storms and weather that interrupted games. We didn't change our policies. Ultimately, we had the game played. We achieved that goal, which is what I stated early on. It would be nice if the weather would stay away, but that's not going to happen. That's why, in answer to Ron's question, we will clearly adjust our policies as we go forward.

Q. Greg, you guys put in a rule that, if a grad transfer comes in and doesn't do his work, doesn't graduate, you can't take one the following year. I've been told there's like five, six, seven SEC schools that are in that boat -- in fact, I think Florida's one of them. Is that a concern that you, in terms of just athletically, and not being able to compete, and take a guy like a Malik Zaire can't go to those schools?
GREG SANKEY: Yeah, and that will be a conversation I'll initiate. I don't think it's at the forefront of all of our institutions' minds, athletics directors. But we were concerned about the grad transfers years ago and tried to figure out mechanisms that encourage young people to make the grad transfer but pursue their graduate degree, and so fulfilling academic terms was at the heart of that. If someone simply walked away without earning all of their APR points, that's when they have that accountability measure. It wasn't about simply the degree. It was a shorter term, semester-by-semester test.

I don't know the number. We put originally a five-year prohibition on taking more grad transfers because we wanted that accountability to be meaningful. We've moved that to three, and actually in our office, we had a number of conversations observing, first of all, no one else has that kind of accountability in their own system. Second, that we don't just want to say transfer in, play, and walk away. We saw that years ago with a transfer from Oregon at quarterback, you may recall. Yet we don't want to be overly punitive in how we create that kind of accountability.

But what we have seen is good outcomes in the past. We've seen young people continue through the semester, finish their graduate work. Some have gone on to earn graduate degrees, certainly not all, but I want it to be an educational pursuit, and that's why we've approached the policy in the manner in which we've approved at this point.

Q. I was wondering if you could maybe just describe a little bit why you think this city is such a good fit for this Championship Game and also what your expectations are moving into the new stadium next year.
GREG SANKEY: Well, Atlanta has been an easily accessible city in many ways, and I want to be careful because there are a lot of cities that are the heartbeats of the South, and Atlanta is certainly one of those cities that is the heartbeat of the South. It is an international destination, an international airport, easily accessible. The accommodations, the hosting at this facility are unlike any we experience. The staff has been incredibly helpful.

You can go back to the tornado in 2008 at our men's basketball tournament. We turned around the ability to play games at Georgia Tech overnight. Our staff worked in great ways. The Georgia Tech staff worked in great ways. But the team dome, the Georgia Dome staff were remarkable through that experience. And that's the kind of service we come to expect every time.

You can stay at a hotel here downtown. You can stay in the suburbs. You can ride mar at that. You can walk from your downtown hotel here. As we've expanded, we've obviously expanded westward. We still have Missouri. We've had Missouri in the game twice, and their fans have traveled here in great numbers. I think it's a destination city where the College Football Hall of Fame is in the heart of this city and college football is in the heart of this region, and it works really well for this conference.

It's a tribute to those. Mark Womack, I saw him hiding in the back, Roy Kramer, and others who are part of our staff making that happen back in the early '90s, that move here.

Q. Earlier in the year with the replay system, it seemed like a lot of replays. Has that gotten better, in your opinion, and the process of calling to the main office and getting that figured out?
GREG SANKEY: When you're the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and the game is interrupted by replay, it always seems like there's a lot of replays in a game because you're breathlessly awaiting each outcome.

What we've learned is, when we have the opportunity to collaborate, we're very good at properly applying the rules based on the available video. Now, if we don't have video, you go with the call on the field, and that happens in certain circumstances.

I think the statistics by memory is about .3 reviews per game increase. It may seem different in different games, but I've been at games where you might have one. I've been at games with none. I think our overturns are up. In fact, I know our overturns are up. The collaborative replay has helped us officiate the game in a more correct manner more frequently. Not perfect. We never promised perfect. And I think it's been a valuable and good experiment.

We are most sensitive to moving along. But I was at a game, Kentucky-Georgia, where a decision was made and announced. Claude was there, I think, as well. And then it buzzed because we got another view of something, and we went back. The announcement was not correct after the other review. The final announcement was correct. You're going to have a couple of those moments, but we want to get the play right, and that's been at the core of this experiment.

Q. I have a little bit of a followup. You're talking about the APR earlier and how you have a team in Mississippi State that's going to be going to a Bowl game now with a 5-7 record because of their APR. What do you think that says off the field, in the classroom, and where it's going moving forward?
GREG SANKEY: One of the special things we've done, in my view, is added a graduate patch to the SEC logo patch, and watching social media from our student-athletes directly, it is like another graduation event when those are placed on their uniforms, and that's not just a football endeavor. And that's a representation of the great academic work being done on our campuses and universities for our student-athletes.

Maybe by coincidence, maybe not, we have monitored for ten years our APR numbers. If you go back to 2004, 20 percent of the SEC's teams were either at or below the NCAA's APR cutoff score or within 10 points of having that problem, and we recognized those issues with a red box when they were below or yellow within 10. That was 48 teams in this league that were in the danger zone.

This year was the first time there are no yellow or red boxes among any of our now 280, almost 300 different teams. I think that's a representation of addressing the APR, and we know, if student-athletes return and maintain their eligibility, they move to graduation. I think that's why you're seeing, along with summer school opportunities, the increasing -- and will see the increasing presence of those graduate patches on our student-athletes' uniforms.

Q. One more question regarding the LSU-Florida game, which I'm sure you probably anticipated there would be some today. In the wake of the whole way that thing played out, do you feel like relationships between the conference office and the schools became strained and between the two schools and each other? If so, what could you and your office do to try to repair those?
GREG SANKEY: Yes, in the SEC, we've often described ourselves as family, and families from time to time you have tension. That's not necessarily the result of a hurricane. It might be the result of a bad officiating call. It might be a scheduling conference. It might be a policy which says a transfer is not allowed in.

I think that historically, without exception, we've worked through those issues, and we will work through those issues. I've had the opportunity to visit -- I was at the game in Baton Rouge. I was at the Florida-LSU game. In fact, I was at the LSU game the week before and had an opportunity to visit with Joe, had an opportunity to visit with King when I was there. I've visited with Scott Strickland since he's been in his role, with Jeremy, with Kent Fox. So part of the job is to deal with those hard issues. That was a particularly hard issue.

As I said over that weekend, it was important to have the game played. We had the game played. This conference is one where we'll get through those issues. We'll work on those relationships, and we'll make sure that we make the most effective decisions together moving forward.

THE MODERATOR: Anything else you want to add before we close?

GREG SANKEY: No. Anybody want to end on a non-hurricane question? We can give that permission.

Thank you.

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