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DESTIN, Florida – They came.
No one kicked anyone’s ass.
Feuding Southeastern Conference football coaches Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M and Nick Saban of Alabama and the 12 other coaches came to the table during the SEC Spring Meetings at the Hilton Hotel on Tuesday afternoon, and apparently nothing happened.
Fisher, who is the meeting chairman this year on a rotation, did not make a motion to have Saban thrown out of the league after Saban accused Texas A&M of buying every player in Fisher’s top-ranked, 2022 signing class.
“Pretty normal,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday night. “I think that probably the assumption is it’s different in there than you guys think, and the public thinks.”
Kiffin knows about feuds with Saban. He had a few while he was Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2014-16. A final disagreement led to his early exit from Saban’s staff in between the national semifinal and the national championship game in the 2016 season that Alabama lost to Clemson. Kiffin had already accepted the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic, but Saban announced he could leave a week early after being upset with his work ethic after he knew he was leaving.
“Guys have jobs to do. They’re professionals, and so it’s probably a lot calmer than you may picture it being,” Kiffin said of Tuesday’s coaches’ meetings.
“Jimbo’s our chair, so he was very engaged,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said of the coaches’ meeting that he opened, then left and dropped back in and out.
“What I said at the beginning was we need to have 14 football coaches focused and engaged in a conversation,” he said. “Nobody can run silent on me. We have that from time to time. Recognizing that we’ve had a lot of transition since people have been here, we need the kind of meaningful concepts and ideas that will lead to solutions. We had some of the best substantive conversations, candid at times, agreeing at times, disagreeing at times, all across the room. Pretty good level of laughter. A few times that I walked in, serious discussion – the kind of meeting we expect.”
Discussed at the meeting was a possible move from the traditional eight-game SEC schedule to a nine-game schedule with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma coming in 2025.
“They had had a bunch they had gone through,” Kiffin said in reference to schedule discussion before the meetings. “Basically an analytic group presented the pros and cons to two different ones. They were an eight and nine, but I don’t know if I’m supposed to give out all the details.”
Kiffin did not feel like a vote was imminent. “I think it was more just getting opinions,” he said.
Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz and other coaches have said they do feel a vote is imminent. Sankey seemed to say it both ways as far as a vote this week.
“I haven’t asked them to do so,” he said.
When asked what has to happen for a schedule decision this week, Sankey said, “We’re eventually going to have to vote. We’re poised for decision making, but whether that’s imminent or not remains to be seen. We’ve narrowed what was in the high 30s – the schedule concepts introduced – to just a handful. We share analytics. We share models. We’ve asked for more feedback (from coaches). I expect something sooner rather than later. It doesn’t have to be here. It doesn’t have to be this week.”
Asked if there was a lean to eight or nine games for an SEC schedule, he said, “Until we’re done, you never know.”
Sankey was more clear about the SEC going from two divisions to one by 2025, then pulled back.
“Yeah, we focused more on the single-division model, but until we’re done, you never know,” he said. “We have had discussions and debate about the models. As we think about what we’re trying to achieve – let’s let teams go through campus more frequently with fairness and balance.”
Asked what the conference wants for a new schedule format, Sankey said, “We have thoughts, but we want the coaches to develop their thinking.”
Sankey also said that his previous discussion of a possible SEC-only playoff as a section of future college football playoffs was not a ploy for leverage, which has been opined.
“We’re not offering that as leverage,” he said. “We were talking about our own reality. From my view we have to talk about what will happen after the 12-year cycle concludes,” he said.
The current, four-team College Football Playoffs’ cycle ends after the 2025 season. But an SEC-only playoff possibility at the moment is on the back burner.
“As we talked about a variety of things, it just kind of stopped,” he said. “Still in a folder some place.”