South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner will attend his first Southeastern Conference spring meetings this week in Destin, Fla. The annual meetings, held at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, traditionally are the conference’s most active sessions of the year.
Football scheduling is expected to dominant the conversation this week, and Tanner thinks it is possible the 2014 conference slate will be released before the end of the week. Tanner took time before leaving for Destin to discuss that schedule and several other issues that are expected to come up this week.
Question: Do you expect to watch and learn this first year or are you going to dive right in?
Answer: I guess going into the chair here in August, we have had a significant number of A.D. meetings throughout the year. I know Destin is the big meeting. We just got the agenda a few days ago. I am becoming very familiar with all the agenda items. I am looking forward to the week in Destin.
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Q: What are the agenda items that stand out to you as crucial?
A: I don’t know that anything is crucial. There will be a lot of discussion about scheduling in all sports. The league is working hard to get a 2014 schedule in football sooner than later. I think we are pretty far along. We are hoping that will be pretty close to being finished by the time we get to Destin next week or soon thereafter. Then with the SEC Network, there will be further conversations about that launch in 2014. I am sure probably nine games will continue to be discussed from time to time. I don’t feel like that is something that is necessarily right around the corner, but those conversations are certainly going on around the country.
Q: Do you expect a 2014 football schedule to be announced this week?
A: I know the league has been working feverishly to get that done if possible. I think it’s possible. Who knows if they are a lot closer to finalizing it than they have been. As you would imagine, with 14 schools and trying to protect certain days and games, it is a very difficult process.
Q: Is Texas A&M still slated to be your permanent rival starting in 2014?
A: At this point, that is permanent.
Q: Is it your feeling that nine games could happen but doesn’t seem likely?
A: I don’t know if it’ll happen. I am certainly not one in favor of it. I think there is a lot of sentiment in the league from coaches and ADs that we are not in favor of it necessarily but things change over time. One of the leagues has gone from nine back to eight and another has gone from eight to nine. I think it’s our responsibility in this conference with many issues that you continue to address them from time to time. Sometimes change is good. I just don’t think it’s something that imminent.
Q: Do you expect much conversation this week about non-conference scheduling or is that something that the league leaves to schools to decide on their own?
A: There are been discussion about non-conference opponents even going to back to when I sat in the room as a baseball coach at the conference office. That was continually discussed even though we are extremely proud of our conference in the SEC and the competition within the league, the RPIs and the strength of schedule is something that is very important to the commissioner and the league and to all of us. Right now with baseball, you have host sites to be determined, Super Regional sites to be determined and RPI, strength of schedule, all those things, figure in. That is consistently discussed, and with the new football format coming, it becomes very, very important. If you are a team that can be in one of those top four spots, the possibility will exist that there could be, let’s say a two-loss team that goes ahead of a one-loss team based on strength of schedule. Strengths of schedules are discussed in all of our sports.
Q: So you would expect the new College Football Playoff to strengthen out-of-conference schedules rather than weaken them?
A: My opinion, I think the answer would be yes. It’s a risk-and-reward situation. You put yourself in a position where you might not win the game or you schedule differently and you win but your strength of schedule might not get you there.
Q: So you would rather err on the side of a stronger strength of schedule?
A: I think you have to give yourself an opportunity. We play in a very difficult conference, and I don’t think you have to necessarily say, ‘We have the toughest schedule in the country.’ I don’t think you have to go that far, but you have to have that balance that you have opportunities if you get in that position. I go back to baseball, and over the years, that was a major deal. When you are doing your non-conference schedule, you don’t know who is going to win the America East. You have to think about those things when you are scheduling. Is this a team that’s going to finish in the top half of their conference? I think it is very important in scheduling regardless of the sport.
Q: Coach Steve Spurrier has promised to keep pushing his idea of giving expense money to athletes. Do you expect that to come up again this year? Does it have more traction than last year?
A: I wouldn’t be surprised. I think conversations are ongoing, and I think you have to always consider different situations. I don’t think you close the book on a lot of items. I think you should continually address those situations. Personally, I think a stipend situation would be good. The amount of money, how far does it go, those things are very, very difficult to bring to a conclusion. It is a conversation that I think has some merit. How you get there is not easy.