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July 20, 2011
CHARLES BLOOM: Good afternoon and welcome to the 2011 Southeastern Conference Football Media Days. Without any further ado, I'll introduce the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, Mike Slive.
COMMISSIONER SLIVE: Samuel Clemens, who wrote Mark Twain, somebody wrote his obituary before he died. In his immortal words: The rumors of my resignation' are greatly exaggerated. So you're going to have me for a bit longer.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. As anxious as I am to begin my 10th SEC football season on the heels of five consecutive national championships, to brag about winning seven national championships this year alone, bookended by championships in football and baseball for the third consecutive year, and to tell you about the academic successes of student-athletes like Greg McElroy and Derek Sherrod. I'm not going to do that.
As we look forward to the upcoming season, as anxious as we are and as excited as we are, we don't have the luxury of acting as if it's business as usual. And that's been made clear by the headlines emanating from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf to the Great Lakes. As NCAA president Mark Emmert has observed, the events giving rise to these headlines indicate that intercollegiate athletics has lost the benefit of the doubt.
To the extent that that reality exists, it casts a shadow over the extraordinary achievements of student-athletes throughout this country, as well as over the value of intercollegiate athletic competition at a time when student-athletes are graduating at a higher rate than ever before and at a time when we are providing men and women with more opportunity to learn, to grow, and to compete than ever before.
For the past 30 years, we have seen reform efforts come and go, while the NCAA manual continues to grow in size and in complexity. Too many of our student-athletes still come to us ill-prepared academically. NCAA and conference revenues continue to increase. Coaches' compensation continues to grow. Highly publicized infractions cases have increased the level of scrutiny placed on this uniquely and wonderful American combination of athletic competition and higher education.
With that as a backdrop, and in an effort to support and follow up on some of President Mark Emmert's initiatives, we have developed an agenda that is intended to stimulate a national discussion, an agenda for change, if you will, with the hope that we will see significant action in the foreseeable future.
This agenda is not a panacea, nor is it intended to offer a solution to every problem. It does, however, identify several key issues we believe need attention, including many of the matters you have written about these past months.
Four primary areas form the basis of this agenda:
Redefine the benefits available to our student-athletes.
Strengthen academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year transfers.
Modernize the recruiting rules.
Continue to support the NCAA's efforts to improve the enforcement process.
Taking each of these areas one at a time.
In the area of benefits, the issue of providing student-athletes with a full cost of attendance has been a conversation topic in recent months. "Cost of attendance" is not a term invented by conference commissioners, but it is an educationally based, commonly accepted standard that can be properly administered with each university's financial aid office.
The first step is to develop a plan to provide these additional benefits to student-athletes in an equitable manner through a redefined grant-and-aid program linked to the full cost of attendance.
We recognize that this proposal may be a financial hardship on some, yet at the same time economics cannot always be the reason to avoid doing what is in the best interests of our student-athletes.
As we review the cost of attendance, it is important to remember that we have been able to meet the needs of many student-athletes through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund for expenses not covered by scholarships. These include medical, travel, and emergency expenses, health insurance, clothing, and certain books and supplies not part of a scholarship.
Increasing dollars allocated to this fund and encouraging schools to fully distribute the funds to student-athletes can have an immediate and positive impact on meeting the needs of our young people.
We should also have a national discussion on establishing athletic scholarships as multi-year awards with full consideration of the implications associated with this model, including appropriate academic and behavioral conditions.
Regardless of the reasons student-athletes leave early, whether to go pro, because of academic struggles or for personal or other reasons, we want to keep the door open for those who want to come back and get their degree. We should consider extending the opportunity for student-athletes to seek a baccalaureate degree through the provision of funding beyond the current permissible six-year window for awarding athletic scholarships.
We suggest extending the provision of these scholarships to ensure that former student-athletes' access to educational resources and opportunities exist beyond the current six-year NCAA limit.
At this time last year we were dealing with swirling media reports describing improper benefits provided to a few student-athletes by some unscrupulous agents. Since that time a working group has been put together, coordinated by the NCAA. This group consists of the NFL, the NFL PA, the American Football Coaches, the NCAA, Attorneys General, agents, and a couple of us from conference offices.
Progress has been made in identifying issues and some possible solutions to those issues. But the current NFL, NFL PA Collective Bargaining discussions have slowed us down. We look forward to resuming very important dialogue once those issues are resolved.
Our goal is to give student-athletes who aspire to become professionals the opportunity to receive expert advice they need on a timely basis. They should not need to seek advice from those who do not have their best interests at heart. It is important that we in the membership refocus our efforts on developing, in a regulatory approach, that permits agents to better assist student-athletes in a timely way with their aspirations as they make the transition to the pro ranks, at the same time maintaining the prohibition on the provision of material benefits.
That was item one.
Two. One of the most important discussion areas in this agenda is to advance new ways of evaluating freshmen academic eligibility and to support proposed revisions to the two-year college transfer model.
To help high school seniors meet established NCAA academic eligibility standards, we should consider alternative strategies for determining whether freshmen can play in their first year or not. The existing approach of conducting a review of their credentials only at the end of high school is not always effective. A suggested approach is to include a full analysis of a prospects' academic performance throughout his or her high school career to give us a better picture and more complete picture of the individual's preparation for college work.
Three components of this proposed strategy are, first, consider increasing the minimum GPA required for first-year athletic competition from a 2.0 to a 2.5 in the 16 required core courses.
Second, consider establishing an annual satisfactory progress rule at the high school level. This would require prospective student-athletes to take and pass a required number of core courses in each of his or her four years of high school in order to participate in athletic competition during the first year of college enrollment.
In short, we envision a system that would prescribe the number of core courses each student-athlete must successfully complete each year of high school. This would avoid the last-minute effort of high school seniors when they finally realize what they need to do to become eligible to try to cram together too many core courses.
Third, and this is important, this new model, if adopted, could result in the return of the partial qualifier category for certain enrolling freshmen. Specifically prospects who meet the current academic standards for initial eligibility, but who fail to meet the proposed new standards I just outlined, would be permitted to enroll, receive aid, engage in limited practice during their freshman year, but they would not be permitted to compete until an academically successful year in residence was fulfilled at the institution.
While we look at these initial eligibility concepts, we are following the work of the Division I academics cabinet, and they're redefining the academic requirements concerning the eligibility of two-year transfers in an effort to increase the expectations of their academic performance, and we certainly support that effort.
Recruiting. It's time to push the reset button on the regulatory approach to recruiting in order to move away from the idea that recruiting rules are designed to create a level playing field. There are significant differences between institutions and resources, climate, tradition, history, stadiums, and fan interest, among many other things that make the idea of a level playing field an illusion.
Rules governing text messaging and phone calls won't alter that fact. In early June, the SEC provided input on this issue when we forwarded correspondence to the NCAA to initiate discussion on some of these suggested changes. The result of the current legislative approach is to criminalize essentially harmless behavior which draws attention and resources away from the kind of behavior we seek to deter.
We suggest change in three areas: First, permit the effective use of personal electronic communication between prospects and institutional staff members to include phone calls, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and other social media avenues, as well as other communication means yet to be developed.
Second, rather than continuing a recruiting calendar with differing rules for off-campus recruiting activity, contact days, evaluation days, let's simply establish days in which it's permissible for coaches to engage in off-campus recruiting. If a coach is permitted to travel off campus to recruit, he or she should be allowed to evaluate and have a conversation with the prospect on the same day. Maybe we can make the so-called 'bump' history.
The only variance from this simplified approach is to retain the prohibition throughout the day of a prospects's athletic contest.
Third, we should encourage the adoption of rules to ensure that the recruitment of prospects is conducted within the secondary educational environment in the academy while promoting the direct interaction between our coaches, prospects and their families.
We seek to hold the historic approach to recruiting through the scholastic setting rather than through third parties and so-called 'handlers.' For this reason, the SEC has submitted national legislation prohibiting institutions from hosting, sponsoring, or conducting non-scholastic football events at any location on or off campus.
One of the NCAA's most challenging and important roles, as you all know, is enforcing its rules and regulations that have been approved by the membership. Included in this suggested agenda for change is a clear statement in support of President Emmert and Vice President of Enforcement Julie Roe Lach to restructure the NCAA enforcement process in order to effectively focus resources on cases of core importance in a timely fashion.
At the same time it's our obligation as members to provide direction to enforcement in the form of legislation that can be clearly understood and enforced. Our goal is to work closely with President Emmert to initiate a comprehensive reform effort intended to produce a greatly streamlined NCAA manual that governs only enforceable issues, again, of core importance that goes to the heart of what we do.
A lot has been said over the last several years about the risk-and-reward approach to recruiting. That's focused on the definition of violations as either major or secondary. Any behavior that results in a violation is always a problem and always a concern. But we have become increasingly aware that these two limited definitions may not adequately distinguish the actions associated with the violation.
President Emmert and his staff are evaluating these labels with the goal of ensuring that an intentional violation is addressed in an appropriate category with appropriate sanctions.
You've heard about the upcoming retreat, Presidential Retreat, in August. Four SEC presidents: Mark Keenum, Mississippi State, Harris Pastides, South Carolina, Michael Adams, Georgia, and Bernie Machen, Florida, will participate from our league in next month's retreat. I hope that we can consider this retreat, that's initiated by Dr. Emmett, as a call to action. We anticipate the ideas outlined today will be combined with the thoughts of others to establish what might be called "The National Agenda For Change."
In the context of addressing problems and solutions and change, it's essential to keep some perspective here. The vast majority of our institutions, coaches and student-athletes do the right thing most if not all of the time. The good that intercollegiate athletic competition brings to higher education far outweighs the problems.
How to make the point. Maybe the best way to make the point is to talk about the real brag bag, not the one I usually talk about, and that's people, the people who make up the world of intercollegiate athletics. These people include SEC student-athletes, coaches and administrators, who this past year celebrated the life of Mississippi State's football student-athlete Nick Bell after he lost his brief but courageous battle with cancer;
Who developed programs to help those less fortunate than themselves like Vanderbilt student-athlete John Stokes, who led a student group to Belize to build Jacob's Farm, the country's first alcohol rehabilitation center;
Who honored a competitor recovering from a tragic accident when Florida's baseball team joined Georgia's team to surround Georgia baseball player Johnathan Taylor, who had been tragically injured, and running onto the field and surrounding him and celebrating him as his story of injury and courage was told on the big board;
Who saved the life of Al Schmidt, Mississippi State's Director of Track and Field when he collapsed at the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championship;
Who led by example of our head coaches who, in addition to the support they provide their personal foundations, support causes like Boys' and Girls' Club, Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, the USO and others.
Each gives of his time and talent to meet the needs of others as Georgia's Mark Richt has done during his three visits to impoverished villages in Honduras;
Who devoted time, energy and resources to come to the aid of victims of the tornados that devastates Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas, as well as communities in Mississippi;
Who donated half a million dollars to help University of Alabama students, faculty, and staff to begin the recovery from the effects of the tornado. Perspective.
I want to close with a story, a story I told at the SEC's awards dinner early in June.
The event was the shot put competition at this year's SEC indoor track and field championships. Louis Day, a Carolina shot putter learned as a result of his performance in the preliminaries had qualified for the ninth and the final spot in the shot put finals. Both the coach and Day believed there must have been an error because of the distance awarded on the throw was well beyond any throw he made all year.
The coach went to the meet's head official to report the error. He was advised no one had lodged a protest. Without the protest, the throw would stand, depriving Caleb Whitener, a shot putter from Georgia, his opportunity to compete in the finals.
The coach and Day decided the right thing to do was to file a protest themselves, reporting that Day had reached the finals without merit. After considering the protest, the head meet official expanded the finals field to include 10 instead of nine. Interesting enough Whitener finished ninth and Day 10th. When asked why, the coach said, and I quote,' I just thought it was the right thing to do from the get-go. I never really thought about it. As coaches, we always try to stress to the student-athlete that the only accomplishments that are really worth anything are the ones that you've worked for and that you can stand behind what you did.'
The coach of South Carolina assistant track coach Mike Sergent whose honesty, integrity and sportsmanship serves as an inspiration to us all, and as an example for all our student-athletes and coaches to follow. Perspective.
University of Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley spoke to the heart of our commitment to intercollegiate athletics during the invocation he gave at this year's SEC awards dinner.
I quote: "The young men and women we honor tonight epitomize what we all hope to achieve in our lives, to positively impact young men and young women, and no matter what criticism is leveled at this profession, our desire and our success in impacting so many young lives makes our mission noble and gives what we do so much value." Perspective.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. As I say every year, once again, may the muse be with you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports