published Sunday, June 1st, 2014

SEC hoping NCAA flexibility can avoid 'crisis' stage

  • photo
    Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive talks with reporters during the SEC football media days in Hoover, Ala., in this 2013 file photo.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

On the verge of wrapping up his 12th year as Southeastern Conference commissioner, Mike Slive announced in March that he was not ready to step down and that he would work through the 2014-15 athletic calendar.

His reasons are justifiable.

The SEC Network is just several weeks away from launching, and it could create as much as $450 million annually for the conference by lining up 30 million subscribers in the league's 11-state footprint. Distribution of the SEC Network has been limited to this point, but Slive also is an integral figure in the NCAA's anticipated restructuring that would give autonomy to the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 in regard to new rules regarding student-athletes.

"This is a historic moment," Slive said in a news conference Friday as the league's spring meetings concluded in Destin, Fla. "If we don't seize the moment, we're going to make a mistake."

The NCAA is allowing the five most profitable conferences to discuss enhancing the full cost of attendance, developing a lifetime opportunity fund that would assist players in completing their education, and covering the transportation costs for parents of athletes on official recruiting visits or to championship events.

Also being discussed are allowing student-athletes the ability to obtain insurance policies that protect future earnings and increasing academic support, particularly for at-risk athletes.

"Our focus continues to be on the student-athletes and their well-being," Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones told the Tupelo Daily-Journal. "Good or bad, the resources that are available to universities and their athletic programs have sorted out such that there are five major conferences that have access to some revenue that others don't. I think that does give us a different level of responsibility for our student-athletes, and this autonomy is a pathway for us to accept and fulfill that responsibility."

The NCAA is proposing that the five conferences receive approval of two-thirds of the 65 involved schools and four of the five conferences in order to enact legislation. Slive would prefer that the minimums be 39 instead of 43 of the 65 schools and three of the five leagues.

In August, the NCAA's board of directors could agree with the changes adopted by the five conferences. The next step would be a vote by the full NCAA membership in January 2015.

"It's not just meal money," Florida president Bernie Machen told the Orlando Sentinel. "We're talking about medical coverage. We're talking about a lifetime opportunity to get a degree. We're talking about maybe incentives to help people come back and get their degree.

"There are all kinds of things that can be done to make the system better for the student-athletes if we can just get some flexibility."

And if the NCAA board rejects the new governance proposals from the five conferences?

Welcome to the potential of an unprecedented breakaway to an NCAA Division IV.

"If it doesn't pass, I think the next move would be to go to the Division IV," Slive said. "It's not something we want to do. We want to be in the NCAA, and we all want to be in Division I.

"This is not my hope how this works out, and I'm optimistic we're not going to Division IV."

The word "crisis" was used several times Friday in regard to the new governance. Slive does not believe the process will reach a crisis point, but all bets are off if there is a rejection come August.

"We're in a squeeze here," Machen told the Orlando Sentinel. "There are now six lawsuits that name our conference and specifically have to do with the whole cost of attendance. We would like to make changes, and yet we can't because the NCAA doesn't allow us to.

"We desperately would like some flexibility."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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