SEC meetings end with dialogue but no ‘easy button’ to push regarding NIL

The SEC logo is displayed at the Hyatt Regency hotel, site of the SEC Media Days, Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala.

Credit: AP Photo/Butch Dill

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The SEC logo is displayed at the Hyatt Regency hotel, site of the SEC Media Days, Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala.

Credit: AP Photo/Butch Dill

DESTIN, Fla. — SEC leadership advanced the ball on NIL issues challenging college football, but by no means has anyone crossed the goal line.

“We understand there’s no ‘easy button’ to push,’ SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said at the conclusion of the league’s annual spring meetings at the Sandestin Hilton.

“One of the mantras this week is, it’s never going to be the way it was, but it doesn’t have to be the way it is.”

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As things stand, collegiate athletics are in an uproar with the name, image and likeness legislation put in play last summer, at the same point the NCAA passed a one-time transfer exemption.

Sankey, who’s beginning his eighth year as the SEC’s commissioner, said there was “high-level and deep dialogue” among the league presidents, chancellors and athletic directors at a joint meeting Thursday in Destin.

The main topics:

• Name, image and likeness

• Transfers

• NCAA transformations

• State legislation

• Congressional interests and legal activity

“A very complex set of problems,” Sankey said.

The most pressing and challenging of which is NIL, as it affects the revenue model for college athletics.

Football, which drives the revenue train for athletic departments, is dealing with a free-agency dynamic when recruiting and trying to retain players.

“Look at the NFL model, they have contracts, they have free agency, they have a players association,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

“A lot of these things don’t exist and never really needed to exist in college football, but as soon as you start paying people, or people start earning money, then you’ve got to start thinking about how do you control these things in a way that creates uniform balance.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart, whose program ran up the highest recruiting budget in the nation pre-COVID, confirmed that living-room conversations have changed.

“It is changing the narrative for the player,” said Smart, who has suggested before that championships, facilities, and development don’t mean as much to recruits as they did pre-NIL.

“I just would like it where a decision isn’t based on where (the recruit says), I’m going to the highest bidder.”

Brian Kelly, the coach with the most wins in Notre Dame history (113 victories) before assuming the LSU head coaching job in December, touched on the lack of transparency in NIL dealings.

“This has turned into a runaway train that has moved well past student-athlete and is moving too fast toward a professional contract,” Kelly said in Destin.

“And, what’s real and what is fiction? A kid could say, ‘I was offered $1.5 million to come to ‘X’ school, you better get on board or you’re not going to get me.”

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, whose well-documented verbal spat with Saban made headlines, said unification is key for college leaders to find a sustainable model for NIL dealings.

“Instead of going, ‘ready, aim, shoot’ in this deal, we went ‘ready, shoot, aim,’ and that’s what has caused all the discomfort,” said Fisher, who rotated in as the chairman for the coaches’ group at this year’s meeting.

“The thing you have to have is uniformity. It has to be concrete across the board, whatever each state’s rules or laws are, and I don’t know how you get to that,” Fisher said. “So the answer is there is no answer.”

At least not yet, which Sankey concedes. He also suggests that identifying the root issues represents progress itself.

“You unpack the impact of state laws and the limits on some decision making at the conference level because of the state law implications, that’s an ‘aha’ moment,” Sankey said.

“You start to realize the complexities, and then we can start to refocus on direction, which I think we’ve done.”