HOOVER, Ala. -- The college football world is a far more interesting place when South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thinks he has a good football team. He proved that again Tuesday while batting cleanup during an otherwise dull first session of SEC Media Days.
Back in 2007, when Spurrier had a team on the verge of a 6-6 season, he walked into the cavernous writers' room and delivered a 245-word opening statement. This section pretty much summed up Spurrier's mood: "I know it will be a huge assignment, but I believe our players, our team, we need to come to the ballpark feeling like we're just as good as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and that we can play with those guys to see what happens."
Tuesday, coming off back-to-back 11-2 seasons and clearly enjoying the fact that he had a 6-foot-6, 270-pound Heisman Trophy candidate defensive end answering questions one room over, Spurrier rattled off a 1,445-word tour de force that somehow managed to jab the NCAA, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, Notre Dame, Georgia and Alabama. It seemed like the old days, when Spurrier knew his Florida team was going to Fun 'n' Gun its way through the league and Spurrier spent his Media Days sessions asking then-commissioner Roy Kramer why major college football couldn't manage to stage a playoff.
The playoff starts next year, so Spurrier has a few new pet issues. Because he knows he has a good team, he's happy to speak out about those issues. Foremost among them is his wish that the SEC football players receive $300 a game in expense money. Spurrier would also like to see men's basketball players, whose sport also generates positive revenue, receive between $3,600-$3,900 a year in additional expense money. Spurrier has been beating this drum for a few years, but he believes the players should get more as new television deals keep bringing in millions more every year to be split among coaches, athletic directors and support staff. "This is tiny compared to the money that's coming in now," Spurrier said. "I think we all know that."
This isn't all that different from plans put forward by the leadership of the SEC and Big Ten to provide stipends that would allow athletic scholarships to actually cover the full cost of attendance. "Please don't say 'Spurrier says pay-for-play,'" Spurrier said. "This is just expense money." The difference between Spurrier's proposal and the proposals approved by the conferences is that the coaches themselves would fund the extra money. At the SEC's spring meetings in Destin, Fla., in May, Spurrier led a 14-0 vote of the SEC's football coaches to suggest the league fund such a program. There may have been a coach or two who disagreed, but no coach wants to become known on the recruiting trail as the guy who said he didn't want to give more to the players.
While Spurrier addressed this issue Tuesday in the most Steve Spurrier way possible, the SEC's commissioner addressed it in the most Mike Slive way possible. "Conferences and their member institutions must be allowed to meet the needs of their student athletes," Slive said. "In recent conversations with my commissioner colleagues, there appears to be a willingness to support a meaningful solution to this important change." Slive's statement was a subtle shot across the bow at the schools in less wealthy conferences who keep trying to block the wealthier ones from giving more money to athletes. Essentially, Slive is warning that if the Have-Nots insist on blocking changes proposed by the Haves, the Haves may have to form their own subdivision within the NCAA.
Spurrier isn't worried about that. He knows he has gotten rich off these deals, and he'd like to give a little more to the guys putting their bodies on the line for our enjoyment. He also feels Notre Dame should join a conference in football. That doesn't make as much sense, but Spurrier still feels quite strongly about it. "We just started trying to figure out why the athletic director of Notre Dame is equal to all the conference commissioners," Spurrier said. "Nobody had a good answer except that's the way it's always been done. For whatever reason, all 14 of our head coaches thought that Notre Dame should join the ACC and play football like all the rest of us." This probably has to do with making sure Notre Dame isn't treated differently with regard to the upcoming playoff, but never mind. Spurrier was rolling.
Spurrier, whose team has beaten Georgia the past two seasons only to watch the Bulldogs roll to the SEC East title thanks to an easier SEC West opponent draw, once again ripped the SEC's scheduling. "We know that last year, Georgia and Alabama played for the conference championship," Spurrier said. "Alabama did not play the top three teams in the East, and Georgia did not play the top three teams in the West." Spurrier said Florida and LSU, who must face one another every year, have "the most legitimate gripe." Spurrier again reiterated his wish that only division games count when determining the division title. Of course, Spurrier did not complain about this year's schedule. From the West, the Gamecocks will face Arkansas and Mississippi State. Georgia will face Auburn and LSU.
A few moments later, it became clear why Spurrier was so loose. He loves this South Carolina team. He thinks it can compete for the SEC title. And any team that can compete for the SEC title can compete for the national title. Spurrier raved about having two capable quarterbacks and suggested he might play Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson at the same time -- taking his Noah Brindise-Doug Johnson gambit from Florida's 1997 upset of Florida State to its logical extreme. He also mentioned that defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was clocked in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash recently. Clowney, last seen splattering Michigan tailback Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl, is Spurrier's most dangerous weapon since the trio of Danny, Ike and Reidel at Florida.
Later, someone asked the former Gators coach and Florida quarterback if he might follow the lead of another former Florida coach and turn in the Gators for an NCAA secondary violation. (Earlier this year, someone on Urban Meyer's Ohio State staff turned in Florida assistant Brian White for a violation of the NCAA's "bump rule," which prohibits coaches from saying more than "hello" to players during the May evaluation period.) "Like that?" Spurrier said. "Probably not that." Then he smiled.
Earlier in the day, the guy who holds Spurrier's old job had his own thoughts on that particular subject. "We didn't do anything wrong. The University of Florida didn't do anything wrong," current Florida coach Will Muschamp said while meeting with beat writers and a few others before heading down to the main press conference. "We appreciate our friends from Ohio making sure we're compliant with NCAA rules. They certainly know a thing or two about NCAA rules."
Had Spurrier been there, he would have pulled Muschamp aside and given him some veteran advice. When you've got a zinger like that, save it for the big room.