Wiedmer: SEC's Slive is never passive

Wiedmer: SEC's Slive is never passive

July 21st, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

You can argue over Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive's vision for the future of major college athletics, and many no doubt will in the days, weeks and months to come.

But no one can ever call Slive passive. Especially not after his opening remarks at the start of the SEC's annual media days Wednesday.

Seemingly surrounded by more and more public relations problems, Slive took the offensive as if Steve Spurrier were calling the plays.

He stole the thunder of academia by asking that the NCAA strongly consider raising the high school cumulative GPA needed to participate for a college freshman from 2.0 to 2.5 on core classes. On the other hand, he satisfied his 12 member schools -- or at least everyone but Vanderbilt -- by pushing for partial qualifiers to obtain eligibility as college sophomores if they satisfied certain academic standards as freshmen.

He threw a Clifford-sized bone to his league coaches by attacking certain recruiting rules, especially the "bump" rule, which was arguably the final straw in his friend Bruce Pearl's ouster as Tennessee's basketball coach. Along those same lines, he also called for less strict standards on social media contacts, since it probably can't be enforced anyway.

And he said something that every big-boy school in the country who routinely goes bowling over the holidays and dancing in March has declared since time began, or at least since World War II ended.

Said Slive: "It's time to push the reset button on the regulatory approach to recruiting in order to move away from the idea that recruiting rules are designed to create a level playing field. There are significant differences between institutions and resources, climate, tradition, history, stadiums, and fan interest, among many other things that make the idea of a level playing field an illusion."

In other words, we know we've got every advantage known to man down here in SEC country and we intend to fight to keep it, if not enhance it.

Yet even there Slive seemed mindful of a need to change the national perception of the SEC as 11 jock factories and Vandy. Speaking to the growing concern over the liquidity of athletic scholarships, particularly in the revenue sports when a coach is on the hot seat, the Commish again showed a kinder, gentler side.

"We should also have a national discussion on establishing athletic scholarships as multi-year awards (instead of the current one-year model)," he said, "with full consideration of the implications associated with this model, including appropriate academic and behavioral conditions."

But on at least one extremely important point, Slive sounded more salesman than statesman.

On the issue of paying student-athletes, he said, "The first step is to develop a plan to provide these additional benefits to student-athletes in an equitable manner through a redefined grant-and-aid program linked to the full cost of attendance. We recognize that this proposal may be a financial hardship on some, yet at the same time economics cannot always be the reason to avoid doing what is in the best interests of our student-athletes."

Let's be clear about something right now: The cost of attendance -- a newfangled term for what it really costs a young person to attend college for a year--_ should not include money for tattoos, jewelry, iPhones, X-Boxes, a 50-inch television, a limitless texting contract and eight pairs of $150-a-pair sneakers.

Taking a date out for a movie and a pizza is one thing. So is heading home for Christmas and Easter or calling Mom and Dad on Sunday evening. Those may not be necessities, but when you're making millions for Big State U., those seem more than a fair trade-off.

But at least twice in his speech, Slive talked of perspective. I'll add another P-word -- priorities.

If both the recruits and their families had their priorities in order -- and priorities are something in short supply throughout this country these days -- they'd be less worried about the cost of attendance and more appreciative that their Ricky Running Back is attending college for nothing.

That said, Slive represents the biggest, baddest athletic conference on the planet, a league that cares so much about winning that 11 of its 12 members -- Vanderbilt, take another bow -- have been at odds with the NCAA at least once over the last 25 years.

Yet the SEC commish made it clear he believes the Old SEC Truth of "If you're not cheatin' then you're not tryin,'" must give swiftly give way to the New Truth of "If you're cheatin' then you're cryin.'"

Call it the new cost of attendance for major college athletics.