By MATTHEW STEVENS
HOOVER, Ala. – Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive had a goal when he took the job that he wanted every one of his schools off probation.
A decade later, every school except for Vanderbilt has committed a rules violation in their football program.
“The events giving rise to these headlines indicate that intercollegiate athletics has lost the benefit of the doubt,” Slive said. “It casts a shadow over the extraordinary achievements of
student-athletes throughout the country.”
The league’s commissioner stepped to the podium less than a day after LSU’s program was sentenced to a year of probation and had a scholarship taken away after committing recruiting violations involving a junior college player.
In his 29-minute speech, Slive outlined a four-point initiative which included redefining the benefits available to athletes, strengthening academic eligibility, modernizing the recruiting rules and continuing to support NCAA enforcement staff.
Slive’s plan on benefits to student-athletes included introducing the scholarship as a multi-year contract instead of a one-year renewal agreement among programs and the athlete itself. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier quickly disagreed with that idea when asked Wednesday.
“No, that’s a terrible idea,” Spurrier said. “Do you sportswriters have a multi-year deal? Everybody has to earn your way in life. The commissioner and I agree on a lot of things but that’s not one of them.”
The most intriguing aspect of Slive’s speech was his belief academic standards to get into SEC schools should go up from a 2.0 grade point average to a 2.5 mark in the 16 required core courses while bringing back a “partial qualifier” for enrolling freshmen. This would allow
signees that can’t qualify academically to be on scholarship but not participate until they showcase the proper academic marks.
“I agree with the thought of toughening the high school requirements,” Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. “Let’s make sure we do things on the college level and not put on the high schools. Whether you make it a 2.0 or a 2.5 in high school, when you get to college it’s a 1.8.
That’s what I struggle with.”
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said an increase in academic standards may provide difficulties in annually recruiting high-level talent especially in certain areas of the Magnolia state.
“I’m all for increasing the standards,” Mullen said. “We just want to make sure there’s a plan in place that we don’t just increase the standards but don’t have a plan to raise the standards of these young people while they’re in high school.”
The concept of modernizing the recruiting rules included allowing coaches to text and use social media avenues like Facebook and Twitter to conduct prospective recruits.
“The result of this current legislative approach is to criminalize essentially harmless behavior which draws attention and resources away from the kind of behavior we seek to deter," said Slive.
Slive’s appeal to help promote cooperation with the NCAA enforcement staff includes a presidential retreat in August participated by four school presidents including MSU’s Mark Keenum in what the SEC commissioner called “The National Agenda For Change”.
“I hope we can consider this retreat as a call to action,” Slive said.
After not being successful in his 10-year plan for the league as commissioner, Slive is convinced action simply has to be taken soon to preserve a cleaner image of the sport that has won five straight national championships.
“For the past 30 years, we have seen reform efforts to grow in size and in complexity,” Slive said. “Too many of our student-athletes still come to us ill-prepared.”