The Southeastern Conference unveiled a new – and probably very expensive – slogan to start its SEC Media Days here last week: It Just Means More. The league’s principals then spent the rest of the week proving that maybe it means a little too much at times.
For starters, there was conference commissioner Greg Sankey on Monday repeating a line we’ve heard way too often in regard to Mississippi State freshman defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons.
“I’m always cautious to people to be careful of judging one’s character on 10 seconds of video,” Sankey said.
The 10 seconds of video he’s referencing show Simmons repeatedly punching a woman who is lying on the ground. Simmons has been allowed to enroll at Mississippi State, and asked to serve a one-game suspension and undergo counseling as his penance. The “10 seconds of video” line has been mentioned before as a mitigating factor, as if there aren’t plenty of people whose lives have been derailed by 10 seconds worth of poor choices.
On Tuesday, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen made things much worse by botching his response to the Simmons situation on not just one, but two podiums. Mullen, you might remember, left the league’s spring meetings one day before Mississippi State announced the Simmons decision in June. That kept him from having to face the media then, and he’s had more than a month to prepare for the questions since.
You’d have thought he would come up with an approach that wasn’t absolutely terrible.
First, he said he didn’t have much to do with the decision, but that he was “just thrilled that we’re having Jeffery as part of our family coming in.” Then, in a separate interview room, he was asked how he’d feel if the female in the video was a member of his family.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I don’t think it would be my family. I don’t know that my family would be in that situation, to be honest with you.”
It was like watching the “What Not To Do Ever” segment of a public relations training video. It wasn’t the end of the missteps for the league, though.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, while defending his situation not to suspend two players (one of them a star offensive lineman) following an arrest on charges of possession of a stolen gun and possession of marijuana, insinuated that something fishy was going on in the state of Louisiana where the arrests occurred. A Louisiana prosecutor later dropped the charges.
“We found out that there were a lot of circumstances around this case as the prosecutor did in deciding to not charge these guys that I can’t really discuss here right now,” Saban said in an SEC Network interview. “If the players really did anything that wrong they would have been charged with something. There were four people in the car. Why did the two football players get arrested and the two other guys not get arrested? There are just a lot of questions there.”
That prompted this response from the public information officer of the Monroe Police Department: “I can tell you for a fact that the first officer on the scene is not an LSU fan,” Chris Bates told USA Today Network. “He hates LSU. He doesn’t like the color yellow or purple and gold. In fact, he’s a Florida fan. If you mention LSU around him, he throws up in his mouth. Most of our officers are LSU fans, but we have some who are Arkansas fans and Georgia fans and Alabama fans. And I’ll tell you this, the first officer did not even know those guys were players.”
When your most prominent coach is having a back-and-forth with a local police department, you’ve lost control of the message.
Later that day, Missouri coach Barry Odom stood at the podium as Baylor was making the announcement that the Missouri athletics director had left to take the Baylor job. Let’s go through that again: Missouri’s athletics director left for BAYLOR.
On Thursday, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze capped the coaches’ appearances by spending his day outlining why he thinks he and his school will survive their current NCAA issues. Not exactly ending on a high note.
Along the way, people from Sankey to Freeze felt the need to point out that the vast majority of things going on with SEC football teams are very commendable and don’t get as much attention and praise as they should. Guess what, guys: Nobody emails me a nice note when I spell all the words right.
It should have been a banner week for the league, with four days of touting its undeniable attributes and putting its best foot forward.
Instead, it limped away with more self-inflicted paper cuts.