The Southeastern Conference begins its annual spring meeting in Destin, Fla., with some things to celebrate and some to calibrate.
The calibration should not be too difficult. There are issues that have been discussed in the media for a few months now, with transfer policy grabbing the most attention. The league’s institutions will also begin to formulate a policy about the potential changes in gambling in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision that opened the door for sports betting to be decided on a state-by-state basis. There’s a proposal on the table to toughen the financial penalties for programs that end up on NCAA probation.
None of those issues are likely to cause one coach or athletic director to leap across the meeting table and grab another by the throat. The days of outright hostility are gone and, as long as you keep Ole Miss and Mississippi State on opposite ends of the room, there isn’t much chance of the occasional coffee cup flying through the air with malignant intent. If there is a legacy that would have made the late commissioner Mike Slive proud, it would be the spirit of cooperation. There was little to be gained by infighting. Also, no one is inclined to rock the boat when the boat’s main purpose is to pull up to the dock and load up with money.
On the celebration side, the SEC had a good year if not a rare vintage. The league had two teams play for the College Football Playoff Championship, which is important in itself and has the added value of annoying fans from the other conferences to no end. Men’s basketball showed improvement across the league although there was not a Final Four appearance to show for it. Baseball has not concluded yet but the SEC has a strong chance to repeat with defending champion Florida and three other national Top 8 seeds. The women’s sports have been strong all year although three heartbreaking second-place finishes — Mississippi State in basketball, Vanderbilt in tennis and the Alabama women’s golf team in a gut-wrenching playoff against Arizona — kept a strong year from being amazing.
Only two men’s programs made the unofficial trifecta of a bowl game and the NCAA tournament field in basketball and baseball — Texas A&M and Auburn. For the Tigers, it was the first time to achieve all three in 17 years, due to the long basketball drought at AU. (Alabama has not achieved all three since 2011 as baseball and basketball have had ups and downs.) Florida, normally a standard-bearer for the league in all sports, had a bad year in football (I had forgotten that it was as bad as 4-7 until I looked it up) but won’t stay down for long.
Nothing in athletics is perfect, and that includes the SEC. There will be more and more pressure about the meaning of amateurism as time goes by. There will be other issues. But for the most part, the only threatening clouds on the horizon this week came in with Tropical Storm Alberto.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.