SEC nixes early football signing date

Despite coaches’ support, the league strikes down a measure allowing a November signing day

jperson@thestate.com May 31, 2008 

DESTIN, Fla. — Despite an endorsement from the coaches, the SEC presidents and athletics directors voted against a proposal for an early signing period for football Friday during the final day of the SEC spring meetings.

Earlier this week by a vote of 9-3 — with South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier among the dissenters — coaches approved a measure to allow recruits who have not taken official visits to sign a binding letter of intent during the 24-hour period prior to Dec. 1 when coaches are allowed to contact prospects.

However, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the league’s presidents did not want prospects signing with schools they had not visited.

“They want to encourage prospects and students to come to their campus and get to know their campus,” Slive said, “and this was going in a different direction.”

Slive said athletics directors also were “overwhelmingly opposed” to the plan, which coaches hoped would cut down on the practice of schools continuing to recruit and attempting to turn other programs’ committed prospects.

Even with the clause prohibiting in-season official visits, USC athletics director Eric Hyman said an early signing period would have led to more unofficial visits and intensified recruiting efforts during the fall when coaches are trying to win games.

“The focus should be on the regular season,” Hyman said. “A lot of focus would be on the recruiting part of it and energy would be going that (way) because you have the early signing (period).”

TV talk. By August, Slive hopes to know whether the conference will launch its own television channel or go with a more traditional broadcast rights deal. The SEC’s existing TV package, which includes football partners CBS, ESPN and Raycom, expires at the end of the 2008-09 school year.

While Slive refused to discuss whom the league is negotiating with, the deal has huge financial implications. Roughly half of the conference’s record $127.2 million in revenues this year, which were announced Friday, comes from the television deals for football ($50.6 million) and basketball ($13 million).

“There is significant interest by various parties that are talking to us,” Slive said. “We’ve had great success. Our coaches and players have been successful. But you never want to discount that part of our success that is our fans and the culture in our region.”

Whether that fervor could support a channel dedicated to round-the-clock SEC programming remains to be seen. A similar channel launched by the Big Ten last year has been plagued by limited distribution on cable and satellite.

Slive said an SEC channel would supplement the conference’s network and cable packages, but replace its regionally syndicated coverage. It also would eliminate or diminish the pay-per-view telecasts that USC and eight other schools have utilized.

Money matters. The SEC’s revenues increased 4.3 percent from last year’s $122 million total. The conference doled out an average of $10.6 million to its 12 schools.

The figures do not include the $11.6 million that went to the SEC schools that played in bowl games last year or $720,000 the NCAA divided among the schools for academic enhancement.

Polk amendment. Someone in the conference office finally heard Ron Polk. The Mississippi State coach, who is retiring this year, for years has lobbied for an increase to the 11.7 scholarships allotted for baseball.

In response to what Slive called baseball’s “good-faith effort” to improve its academic performance following last year’s roster reductions and changes in the way scholarships could be divided, the SEC will ask the NCAA to allow schools to award 14 baseball grants.

The NCAA has rejected similar proposals for scholarship increases in other sports in recent years.

“As a tribute to Ron, we should call it the Polk amendment,” Slive said.

Odds and ends. The conference refunded $1.2 million to the nearly 11,000 fans — an average of $109 per person — who could not attend the men’s basketball tournament in March after strong winds damaged the Georgia Dome. The tourney was moved to Georgia Tech, where a limited number of officials, fans and family members were admitted. ... Bill Bearden, a USC marketing professor and the school’s NCAA faculty athletics rep, was named to the SEC’s executive committee, a group that oversees the conference’s business matters.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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