Painted with a coat of sunscreen on a tropical canvas, the Southeastern Conference is again ready to do its business.
Steve Spurrier created one of the highlights of last year's SEC Spring Meetings and has already created a talking point for this year's meetings.
The league’s annual spring meetings begin Tuesday in Sandestin, Fla. As usual, football and men’s basketball coaches are due for talks the first two days, followed by athletics directors and presidents as the week progresses through Friday afternoon.
You never truly know what to expect at the SEC’s spring meetings, an event that has grown in attention and importance in recent years. Given the number of media wishing to attend this event, the SEC is trying to implement stricter guidelines to limit the number of reporters in attendance and access each will be granted.
Yet the attention this event now gets leads to pricelessly unexpected moments, like the one Steve Spurrier delivered last year to reporters camped out in the hotel lobby.
This year, the schools have changed. There will be 14 in each meeting now, with new SEC schools Missouri and Texas A&M represented.
And as a result, storylines will shift as well. Whereas oversigning was a predominant issue at last year’s meetings, this year’s agenda and headlines will focus more on the changing landscape of college sports, with main topics expected to include post-expansion schedules in the SEC and a movement toward a playoff in the BCS.
What that is mind, here are five topics expected to receive the most attention in Sandestin …
BCS playoff discussions
UGA president Michael Adams: "I’m not sure we’ve had a Destin meeting in a long time with as much of a substantive agenda as I expect."
SEC presidents held a conference call recently in preparation for what is expected to be a main agenda item on their list this week: A new BCS playoff.
Basically, the BCS is moving toward a four-team playoff to be in place for the 2014 season. And while SEC meetings are not the forum that will ultimately decide the format of those playoffs, Sandestin is where the league’s presidents will formulate their stance on this pressing topic.
And you figure that views of the sport’s most powerful and successful conference will have quite a bit of influence on how the playoff ultimately takes shape.
“There’s a growing consensus about a playoff and still some debate about the role of the bowls, where it would be, how the teams would be selected,” UGA president Michael Adams said. “Those kind of things, I think, are yet to be worked out. … I've lived long enough, I'm not sure I expect us to get closure. I do think we can get closure on a solid SEC position (in Sandestin).”
Adams said a lengthy call with his fellow presidents taught him that “I’m not sure we’ve had a Destin meeting in a long time with as much of a substantive agenda as I expect."
Much of that is tied to discussion about the sport’s move toward a playoff, something UGA’s president has supported for years.
Tennessee AD Dave Hart attended last year's SEC meetings representing Alabama.
For the conference’s coaches and athletics directors, the more pressing issue this week will be a long-awaited resolution on how the SEC will proceed with future football schedules beyond the 2012 season.
“I'm excited for it to be over,” UGA athletics director Greg McGarity said. “I mean, how many times have we talked about it? We talked about it in Phoenix, Nashville, New Orleans. We've gone through it, and now is where we can finally put it to rest for hopefully a 12-year period with football.
“Then the next step will be, 'Well, what are the dates?' so we can schedule non-conference games in '16, '17.”
In Georgia’s case, much of the concern over the new scheduling format had to do with its annual series against Auburn.
Like Alabama-Tennessee, Georgia-Auburn is a cross-divisional rivalry between fixed annual opponents. The SEC’s move to 14 teams put those games in question, simply because eight SEC games on the schedule each year now means six of them will now be against divisional teams, leaving only one rotating opponent each year from the other division if you keep a fixed rival. That is a long time not to play certain other schools.
So despite initial concern among Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee (an unlikely – but powerful – group of allies in this particular cause), those games do now appear safe. So says the league’s ‘schedule guru,’ who says it will probably be a 6-1-1 model after all, Tennessee AD Dave Hart and McGarity.
“I feel real good about that one unless something comes up,” McGarity said on the prospect of maintaining the annual rivalry with Auburn.
So with that likely settled, the questions now become: Who else will Georgia play in 2013 from the West? And how will that final divisional opponent be determined?
Mark Richt speaks on the first day of the 2011 SEC Spring Meetings. Richt, Mark Fox and other coaches will begin meetings Tuesday in Sandestin, Fla.
Some favor maintaining a home-and-away model of rotating opponents every two years, while it is possible the addition of more teams would mean that opponent now rotates every year.
It’s not just football that has been waiting until this week to finally sort things out on the scheduling front. The SEC’s men’s basketball coaches have had to hold off on finalizing non-conference schedules for this upcoming season because of the wait caused by expansion.
“And I hope we decide there (this week),” UGA coach Mark Fox said. “I'm sure we'll argue about things in Destin. We're going to play 18 (conference) games. We know that, but we don't know who we're playing. We don't know what the rotation is. I don't think we know how many natural rivals there's going to be. There's a couple of different models floating out there, so Destin will be an important couple of days for us.”
The league’s coaches voted last season in Sandestin to end the use of divisional play in their sport, leading to 12-team standings and SEC tournament seeding this past season. Coaches are now set to adopt a new format for the league tournament with 14 teams that will likely include new play-in games a day earlier than before.
The Spurrier divisional idea
Many kind of shrugged it off when Steve Spurrier recently proposed a new way to determine divisional champs in football based off divisional record rather than overall SEC record.
After all, his motivation was clear, since Spurrier’s Gamecocks went 5-0 in the East last season and then lost out to one-loss Georgia in the standings after losses to Arkansas and Auburn.
But since Spurrier’s comments, there has been more of a groundswell that expected. He has received support from others like LSU’s Les Miles and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, meaning this could at the very least create some intriguing debate in Sandestin this week.
And the other sports
While hardly major news when weighed against the football-based items on the table this week, McGarity said that this week’s agenda will include a change in the number of participating schools needed to institute an SEC championship for a sport.
As a result, equestrian could become an official SEC sport with only Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M as participating schools. The door could also be open to other smaller, non-profit sports as a result of this week’s talks.
“Anything you compete in, you want to keep score,” McGarity said. “I think it would add to the excitement of the sport, and it would help it grow maybe even to other institutions. … I guarantee you our people would pay more attention if they know they’re riding against Auburn for the SEC title.”