By Tyler Waldrep
The Tuscaloosa News intern
BIRMINGHAM – Sometimes it’s just easier to keep the bags packed.
“The way Mississippi State won Friday’s game (on March 31), ending UConn’s streak and then the all-SEC (women’s basketball national) championship game was certainly a fun experience and worthy of travel,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said.
At the time he was addressing roughly 50 assembled journalists at the Associated Press Sports Editors’ recent Southeastern Region meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. It was just the latest stop in a busy spring for the man who spent only two weekends at home between Christmas and Easter.
Sankey will gladly trade away his weekends if it means avoiding the disappointment felt in 2016 when he watched only three men’s teams earn spots in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. Sankey was encouraged by the SEC’s performance in this season’s March Madness with five in overall and three in the Sweet 16), but he would like to see his league send seven or eight teams every year.
The SEC’s postseason success in the spring seems poised to continue with softball – the conference could send all 13 teams to the NCAA Tournament – but the headlines haven’t all been good with regards to the sport.
Florida softball coach Tim Walton’s incident in the postgame high-five line with Auburn shortstop Haley Fagan came up, as did her recent legal troubles and subsequent suspension.
“When we have an advertising slogan that says ‘It Just Means More,’ it just means more across the board,” Sankey said. “More people are paying attention when those things happen and that’s why it’s important that our conduct be such that it doesn’t happen.”
Many of those same people were paying attention when Florida and LSU struggled, publicly, to find a compromise that allowed the two universities to reschedule an important football game that Hurricane Matthew postponed. However, Sankey refused to dwell on the past when asked about specifics from that time.
Instead he preferred to look ahead, and he spent a large amount of time discussing proposed new football recruiting rules. On this topic, Sankey expressed two main grievances with the legislation: He would like to see the dead period proposed for official recruiting visits to be extended – and even mentioned that as a concern students on the football leadership council brought up on their own in the past – and his second issue concerned the hard cap on signing only 25 players without considering other circumstances.
“So somebody signs, isn’t eligible for some reason, the school is prohibited from replacing that scholarship with someone new, an initial counter,” Sankey said. “I don’t view that as necessarily healthy.”
He referred to the addition of the 10th assistant coach as sweetener intended to help coaches stomach a recruiting package that seems to have some coaches, including Alabama’s Nick Saban, up in arms.
Sankey did not seem share the same concerns Saban held concerning the limitations placed on high school coaches with regards to staffing summer camps and increased barriers preventing them from advancing to the collegiate level.
“I am absolutely certain our schools will continue to recruit successfully at the highest level of college football,” Sankey said. “There’s been nothing to indicate otherwise.”