DESTIN, Florida – As if there was not enough on the Southeastern Conference agenda already.
Name, Image & Likeness (NIL), the NCAA Transfer Portal and football scheduling with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the league in 2025 will be hot items at the SEC Spring Meetings that start Tuesday morning at the Hilton resort here and run through Friday.
But commissioner Greg Sankey also has the blood feud between Alabama coach Nick Saban and his former assistant at LSU – Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher – on the agenda.
A war of words began two weeks ago when Saban said Fisher “bought every player” on the Aggies’ 2022 No. 1-ranked signing class via NIL deals, as if Saban would know the intricacies of each of the 30 signees. Saban, who lost to the Aggies last season for his first defeat at the hands of a former assistant, happened to say that at a speaking engagement on May 18 in Birmingham in front of more than 100 business people who have been and will be behind NIL deals for Saban’s team.
Saban’s contention is that Fisher and A&M promised and had NIL deals set up with prospects before they signed, which was against NCAA rules set forth last summer when NIL sponsorships began. Such deals can only be launched after the recruiting process, according to the NCAA’s interim rules.
Fisher had been hearing similar comments since signing day in February, starting from a particular social media entity called “Sliced Bread.” Now a “reputable” coach like Saban? Fisher called a press conference for the next day, May 19, and proceeded to deliver an already legendary tirade, questioning Saban’s recruiting reputation and calling him “despicable,” among other juicy comments.
Sankey plans on talking about the incident with Saban and Fisher in addition to other business as all coaches in football and basketball will be on hand as well as other sports along with member institutions’ athletic directors and university presidents and chancellors.
“What we have to do is turn the page,” Sankey said of Saban and Fisher to OutKick in between innings at the SEC Baseball Tournament championship game on Sunday. “Because we have to think about what we see as the future, rather than the frustration that exists around the pace of change that’s happening. And really that’s at the heart of a lot of issues.”
Saban has long been frustrated and angry about NIL and its increased use as a recruiting tool because of the manic pace of the transfer portal, considering players no longer have to sit out a year before being eligible post transfer. He is likely more upset with that than with Fisher.
But Fisher is much more upset with Saban, who called Fisher after the incident and has apologized somewhat. Fisher, though, did not take the call and said he’s done with Saban.
“What are the solutions? What is the structure that can be helpful to support young people competing in college sports? That’s the conversation,” Sankey said, sounding aggravated. “NOT what happens between two people. We have to elevate our dialogue.”
It looks like the SEC’s first spring meetings since 2019 – due to COVID cancellations in 2020 and ’21 – will start with a bang.
“Just the fact that we’re gathering seems to have meaning,” Sankey said. “We have membership transition coming. We’ve worked on focusing our discussion on conference scheduling.”
Sankey and staff have been working on new schedules to include Texas and Oklahoma since August when that bombshell dropped. A removal of the two SEC divisions is on the table as well as a possible increase from eight league games a year. Four-team pod scheduling is a possibility. A goal is to schedule more games between teams who have rarely played.
“We won’t get through every schedule decision, but since August, every meeting we’ve had, we’ve made a bit more progress,” Sankey said.
The 14 football coaches will get to discuss and possibly vote on new scheduling.
“We’ve been working on that,” Sankey said. “We had a general update previously. We’ll go deeper with the coaches. What we try to do at these meetings is guide and focus the conversation so our members can make decisions. That’s the point of effort in Destin.”
And the new scheduling model has to be decided up relatively soon.
“There’s not a hard and fast deadline,” Sankey said. “If we’re at eight games, it’s just a matter of placing teams in an eight-game schedule. If we adjust the number of games, sooner rather than later becomes more important as people have to adjust their schedule. With sooner rather than later, you have to facilitate the work.”
When the SEC went from 12 to 14 teams before the 2012 football season, member schools had less than a year of notice.
“We’re not going to let it go that way, I don’t think,” Sankey said. “They’ll have more notice.”