Because of the nature of the SEC’s spring meetings—coaches talk to coaches, and then athletic directors; ADs talk to ADs and coaches, then university presidents—a game of telephone broke out last week.
On Tuesday Georgia officials introduced a proposal to ban transfers who had been booted from their previous schools for several different offenses. By Wednesday, coaches hinted that new SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who took over for Mike Slive on Monday, may receive Roger Goodell-like powers to administer a personal conduct policy for the league’s athletes. By Thursday, when the presidents arrived, the rule had shifted back toward its original form. And while coaches and ADs might have had other priorities—satellite camps, cost of attendance transparency—this issue seemed to top the presidents’ list. But could everyone agree on parameters in time to pass the rule?
On Friday the presidents passed a rule that bans players who were “subject to official university or athletics department disciplinary action at any time during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution … due to serious misconduct” from transferring to an SEC school. In this case, “serious misconduct” is defined as “sexual assault, domestic violence or other forms of sexual violence.”
This is the first rule of its kind from any FBS conference, and it should prove an interesting experiment. While it doesn’t give Sankey the same powers Goodell has in the NFL, it does offer a hard-and-fast rule for situations that conferences usually allow member schools to negotiate on an individual basis.
Why did this happen now? The simple answer is it happened because of Jonathan Taylor, and because Georgia players who committed various offenses kept showing up on other SEC campuses. The even simpler answer is that the presidents of at least eight SEC schools felt like someone should take a stand against this kind of behavior, and this was what they could do to take that stand.
Taylor is a 6’4”, 336-pound defensive tackle who was booted by the Bulldogs last July after being arrested on a domestic violence charge. He was accused of choking his girlfriend and striking her several times with a closed fist. According to the arrest report, officers noted scratches and red marks on the woman’s neck and bruises on her arms and legs. Taylor pleaded not guilty to the charge in April. After leaving Athens last summer, he spent a semester at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss., and was courted by several SEC schools there. He wound up signing with Alabama, where he enrolled in January. In March, Taylor was arrested in Tuscaloosa on another domestic violence charge. He was booted from Bama, and though the woman in that case recanted her accusation and has been charged with filing a false police report, the case against Taylor is pending.
Alabama coach Nick Saban caught all the heat for signing Taylor, but that wasn’t fair because he wasn’t the only SEC coach who recruited him. That fact bothered the coaches and ADs at the schools that would not have taken a player kicked out of his previous school for domestic violence. It also bothered some people at the schools banned by a different SEC rule from taking Notre Dame graduate transfer Everett Golson. Golson, a quarterback with one year of eligibility remaining, would have required a waiver to play in the SEC because he was suspended for a semester from Notre Dame for cheating on a test. Why, some wondered, were schools discouraged from recruiting Golson but welcome to sign Taylor?
One official at an SEC school put it this way after the new rule passed: “There shouldn’t have to be a rule that deals with this.” That official is correct. Rapists and people who beat up their significant others don’t deserve the privilege of playing major college sports. You can view this rule as a kneejerk political reaction, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But ask yourself this: Isn’t any rule that offers real consequences for these offenses a good rule?
After all, we live in a society in which Ray Rice can knock out his fiancée in an elevator—on video, erasing any reasonable doubt—and serve no jail time. If Rice or other domestic abusers got thrown in prison for five years when they slugged their partners, sports leagues wouldn’t need to make rules to keep them out. But state and local judicial systems, which are ultimately controlled by the voters, don’t seem to care enough to offer harsh penalties. For the vast majority of people who can’t fathom raping someone or punching a spouse, this behavior is unacceptable and must be stamped out. In the case of domestic violence, courts simply don’t do enough. It’s understandable why some people feel they must do something. “The intent all along has been on the domestic violence end,” said Georgia AD Greg McGarity. “You’re seeing things play out in other areas like the NFL. We all felt we did not want to be in that position and cause embarrassment to the conference.”
But it’s always tricky when sports leagues try to deal with real-world problems. Witness the NFL’s inability to administer punishments that fit its crimes. For knocking out his fiancée in an elevator, Baltimore Ravens tailback Rice initially got a two-game suspension. For deflating footballs, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady received a four-game suspension. College leagues haven’t waded into these waters for two reasons. First, university leaders prefer to discipline students as they see fit. Every campus has a different culture. That’s why a BYU player can get suspended for having sex out of wedlock while few others would face the same penalty. Second, there is always the threat of a lawsuit if a league bans a player who turns out to be innocent of the charge. This is especially concerning in sexual assault cases in which schools issue discipline but law enforcement can’t find enough evidence to pursue a charge. The accused also deserves rights.
Sankey said the league will have a waiver policy in place for such situations. By tying the ban to the action taken by the previous school (and not by the courts) and by asserting that playing in the SEC is a privilege and not a right, the conference is trying to protect itself from itself. This way, the ban is triggered as soon as the previous school dismisses the player.
The original proposal by Georgia included more offenses. This makes sense, since the Bulldogs have donated more contributors to other SEC teams by kicking off players than anyone else. Zach Mettenberger (accused of groping a woman, signed with LSU after junior college) and Nick Marshall (accused of theft from a teammate, signed with Auburn after junior college) played quarterback against the Bulldogs. This season, safety Tray Matthews (accused of double-cashing a scholarship check, verbal disruption in a class) will start at Auburn.
McGarity said conversations about specific offenses changed the tone of the original conversation during meetings last week. “Every athletic director in the room was concerned about it. The concern was perhaps it growing in scope,” McGarity said. “That started a discussion that, as you saw, was totally outside the lane of what the proposal dealt with.” That discussion produced the concerns over an SEC personal conduct policy that mimicked the NFL’s, but ADs and presidents reined in the discussion by limiting the scope to those three classes of offenses.
This produced some logical questions following the passage of the rule. On Twitter, readers asked why the SEC didn’t include murder, armed robbery or any number of serious offenses. The presidents wanted to pass this rule now. Doing that meant using only the offenses upon which enough could agree. As for murder, a player accused of that could be unavailable to play for the rest of his life. That probably would render him unrecruitable from a practical standpoint.
The ADs and presidents were worried about the players coaches can and do recruit. Georgia, for example, could not recruit a player with any of those offenses on his rap sheet. The Bulldogs have that written into an athletic department policy. But like drug-testing policies—another area where Georgia’s stance becomes a competitive disadvantage—every school has different standards for the players it takes and the offenses that trigger a dismissal.
It will be interesting to see if this rule spills outside its narrow definition. Had the rule been in place this off-season, it would’ve banned SEC schools from recruiting Taylor or Devonte Fields, the former TCU defensive end who signed with Louisville in February even though the Horned Frogs booted him after a domestic violence arrest. (Fields recently reached an agreement to have his misdemeanor assault charge dropped in exchange for completing four anger management courses.) It would not have kept LSU from bringing in tailback Jeremy Hill in 2012. While in high school in ’11, Hill was charged with oral sexual battery in an incident involving another 18-year-old and a 14-year-old fellow student. Hill pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile. He had to wait a year to sign with LSU, but he went on to become a star for the Tigers. Hill would later sucker-punch a man during a fight at a Baton Rouge bar and get drafted into the NFL. With this rule in place, would a school think twice about a high-schooler who committed an act that might get a college student banned from playing in the SEC?
SEC coaches and ADs spent much of last week arguing about rules unique to the SEC that placed SEC programs at what the coaches consider a competitive disadvantage. The SEC bans coaches from working camps more than 50 miles from their campus, while other leagues have no such ban. The SEC also has the aforementioned graduate transfer restriction. None of the others have a similar rule. The general consensus regarding those two rules was if the rest of the nation doesn’t want to adopt them, the SEC would fall into step with everyone else.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with the new transfer ban. Sankey seems comfortable with it even if no other conference passes a similar rule. In this case, the SEC is content to stand alone.
“I’m not worried about that,” Sankey said. “I think it’s a leadership opportunity.”
A random ranking
The 30th anniversary of the release of The Goonies is Saturday. Today, we rank the top five Goonies while bearing in mind that none seemed to notice the ship holding the rest of One-Eyed Willie’s treasure floats away very slowly. Couldn’t someone have driven one of the vehicles to a dock, gotten into a motorized boat and simply collected the treasure? Sure, it was great that the Goonies saved their houses. But their families could’ve been wealthier had one of their parents rushed out there to get the rest of the loot. (If you’re worried about spoilers, stop. It’s a 30-year-old movie.)
1. Chunk: Truffle. Shuffle.
2. Sloth: The finest honorary Goonie. Played by former University of Tampa star defensive end John Matuszak.
3. Mouth: Corey Feldman proves a second language always comes in handy.
4. Data: Every assemble-the-team movie needs a gadget guy.
5. Mikey: Sean Astin, proving early that he was ready for iconic turns as Rudy and Samwise Gamgee.
1. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made the most definitive statement to date about quarterback Braxton Miller’s plans for the 2015 season. “He’s playing for Ohio State next fall,” Meyer said Friday during a press conference prior to Ohio State’s football job fair. Meyer seemed perplexed at the amount of transfer speculation surrounding Miller, who has graduated from Ohio State and could play elsewhere immediately. “I don’t know where that comes from,” Meyer said.
It comes from a logical leap produced by the fact that the Buckeyes have one healthy quarterback who led the program to three postseason wins (Cardale Jones) and a soon-to-be-healthy quarterback who was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate before injuring his ankle last November (J.T. Barrett). What most people doing the speculating don’t take into account is Miller’s medical situation. Miller’s surgically repaired throwing shoulder is healthy enough to allow him to throw on a limited basis, but he still hasn’t been cleared to throw without restrictions. Even if Miller wanted to go to another school—and it certainly seems like he doesn’t—the other coach would be taking a risk by bringing in a player who may not be able to throw.
What does this mean for Ohio State’s quarterback race? That’s difficult to say. If Miller is fully cleared come August and looks in camp like the guy who won two consecutive Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards, it’s not a stretch to imagine him winning the job even though he hasn’t played since last preseason camp. Meyer said he has not had any discussions with Miller about switching to another position, though that would be a logical solution if Miller weren’t medically cleared to throw in time to compete for the job. “The objective is to get him healthy and healthy to be a quarterback for Ohio State,” Meyer said. If Miller remains limited, Jones seems the likely starter. The end of last season proved Ohio State’s supporting cast is so good it doesn’t need a rushing threat from the quarterback to present a dynamic ground attack. Jones has a better arm than Barrett, so in that scenario he probably would give the Buckeyes a better chance to have potent passing and running games.
2. Jones should not, however, consider switching to softball.
Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa, on the other hand, would have a future in the sport if he wasn’t likely set to become a first-round NFL draft pick. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
3. Miller’s rehab isn’t the only one being followed with bated breath. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was asked Tuesday for an update on wide receiver Laquon Treadwell’s recovery from the broken leg and dislocated ankle he suffered against Auburn on Nov. 1. Freeze pointed to Treadwell’s Instagram for the answer.
“He looks like he’s pretty good to me,” he said. “Doing backflips on trampolines, that made me cringe a little bit. He desires to get back and to be even better than he was, so it's a bit hard to keep him patient. It’s time to turn him loose, though.”
4. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell announced his return to Notre Dame following two semesters in exile due to a suspension stemming from an investigation into academic dishonesty. To learn more about Russell’s tumultuous past year, read Pete Thamel’s excellent story from the May 18 issue of Sports Illustrated.
5. Congratulations to Alabama coach Nick Saban and his wife Terry, who were the parents of the bride this weekend. Daughter Kristen was married on Saturday in an explosive ceremony in Tuscaloosa.
Saban said at SEC meetings last week that he had no hand in the planning. “None. And I have not been consulted,” he joked. “I kind of find out early that the wedding wasn’t just about Kristen, but it was a little bit about Miss Terry, too. So I just kind of stayed out of it. It’s kind of like playing against the wind. You’ve just got to run it.”
Still, I’m dying to know if anyone saw Saban doing this at any Tuscaloosa grocery stores on Friday. This is just the sort of scam upon which his exceedingly logical mind would seize.
6. Redshirt sophomore Connor Mitch exited spring practice as the leader in South Carolina’s quarterback competition. But coach Steve Spurrier said the derby will remain open into preseason camp, meaning Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia will have chances to win the job. Meanwhile, incoming freshman Lorenzo Nunez will have an opportunity to see the field early regardless of whether he starts.
“He’ll be in contention to play a lot,” Spurrier said. “Whether he can start the first game, who knows? That would be asking a lot. But we’ll get him ready to play some.”
Nunez, a 6’3”, 210-pounder from Kennesaw, Ga., will bring a skill set similar to that of Connor Shaw, another Georgian who became the most successful quarterback in South Carolina history. Given how much success Spurrier had with Shaw, it’s easy to see why he’d want to get Nunez on the field as quickly as possible.
7. In case you missed last week’s countdown of the 100 reasons to be excited about the 2015 college football season, prepare to get pumped—then disappointed that you still have to wait until September.
8. The Big 12 corrected one confounding rule last month when athletic directors voted in their Phoenix meeting to create a tiebreaker to select a league champion. Unfortunately for the conference, common sense may have stayed in the desert.
Last week the league approved a sportsmanship policy that bans excessive showings of controversial replays on stadium scoreboards. While no exact number of replays was provided, schools that run afoul of the rule could face fines.
“Allowing controversial replays to be shown on multiple times or occasions can elevate the hostility in a venue,” Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw told David Ubben of FOX Sports Southwest. “We’ve talked about the fact we have to balance that. There’s an entertainment value. We want to provide high entertainment to our fans, but we don't want an environment that's too hostile.”
McCaw may as well have said this: “Please stay home and watch the game on your 70-inch televisions. We’re not interested in you spending your hard-earned dollars to see games in our stadiums.” Controversial replays are the ones people want to see multiple times. That’s why the directors of game broadcasts show them so often. As the home experience continues to get better relative to the in-stadium experience, one of the challenges is competing with the TV broadcast. An easy fix is to show the same replays with the same frequency that fans would see at home.
ADs concerned about in-stadium attendance—and they all are—shouldn’t give fans more reason to stay home. Former Chattanooga Times Free Press coworker and current West Virginia MetroNews writer Allan Taylor put it quite eloquently in a column on Sunday: “If this is the scene the Big 12 hopes to curb—fans standing, completely energized and roaring full-throat—then the next move should be replacing public address announcers with the chair umpire from Roland Garros. (Silence s’il vous plaît.)”
Perhaps the Big 12 needs an Associate Commissioner of Common Sense who would sit in meetings and raise his hand before such rules are made public. This person’s only task would be to ask the assembled group one question: “Do you realize how stupid this will make us look?”
10. This week in Jim Harbaugh …
What’s eating Andy?
I know I addressed it earlier, but I still can’t fathom why The Goonies didn’t just get that treasure. That ship is visible for most of the closing credits. In the time it takes for Cyndi Lauper to sing a song, they all could have made enough to buy and sell that golf course magnate 1,000 times. This has bothered me for a long, long time.
What's Andy eating?
Something seemed wrong as I approached the podium at The Red Bar on Wednesday night. There was no line. There were no people occupying the leather couches that surround the tiny stage area. There were no patrons spilling out the entrances at the front and by the bar. I had found a parking spot on the first pass.
The Red Bar always had a wait. Even though it sits in quiet Grayton Beach, Fla., and not more touristy Destin or more kitschy Seaside (where The Truman Show was filmed), a group of any size could reasonably expect to wait at least an hour. That was fine with The Red Bar, which could goose its (cash- or check-only) beer sales, and fine with surrounding businesses, which enjoyed the spillover. In May 2009, a two-hour wait nearly caused me to buy a framed photo of Elvis singing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound with a top hat on The Steve Allen Show in 1956.
Why did we wait so long? For me, it was for the one dish not listed on the five-item chalkboard menu the servers tote to each table. I’m always in the area in late May to cover the SEC’s spring meetings, and the special that time of the year is always blackened grouper atop a fried grit cake on a bed of wilted spinach. The fish is always perfect—flaky without being too delicate. The grit cake is a marvel. Mix in the correct amounts of butter, salt and pepper that turn grits from flavorless mush into a delicacy, and then pan fry a block of said grits. A bite that includes the grouper, the grit cake and a little spinach—combined with the knowledge that a wide, nearly empty white sand beach sits just outside—takes me as close to my personal heaven as I can get while still breathing.
So, when the hostess looked at our party of four Wednesday and said we could take any open booth in the dining room, fear shot through my stomach. Had something happened? Were they under new management? Had the grouper been discontinued? A small flyer on the table didn’t help. It advertised a number of appetizers that likely came straight off the menu at Tchotchkes.
As I pondered what all of this might mean, our waiter sauntered over with his chalkboard. He explained the five items. My gut tightened. Then he said the magic words: “And we have one item tonight that’s not on the menu.”
As he described the grouper and the grit cake, I leaned back. Everything would be O.K. It was just a slow night. Perhaps the throbbing EDM on the stereo had chased away some of the more traditional clientele. This is, after all, the place where we first spotted the $165 SEC belt on a customer at the bar. When the server brought out four grouper specials for our four-person party, I knew nothing had changed but the music. We gobbled the fish and grits. Then we each devoured a piece of house-made Key Lime pie*. There had been nothing to fear. The grouper was still in The Red Bar, and all was right with the world.
*I used to think that Key Lime pie was the best dessert item on the Redneck Riviera. I learned Friday that this is not the case. That is when I had my first peanut butter cream filled, chocolate glazed doughnut from The Donut Hole. From now on, this will be the doughnut by which all other doughnuts are judged.