By Adam Brown
The unofficial start of SEC football got underway on Monday with the 2021 SEC Media Days opening in Hoover, Alabama.
League Commissioner Greg Sankey opened the week up for the 14 league coaches to address the media prior to fall camp. Last year, Media Days was not held due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which almost caused no football for a season.
“(Last) Aug. 10 — when it was clear several of our colleague conferences were not going to move forward with a fall season and the SEC, informed by our medical advisory task force and guided by our leaders — I simply and honestly announced: Can we play? I don’t know,” Sankey said. “We haven’t stopped trying, and we will continue to do so every day.”
Sankey said the threat of no college football and the reality of an abbreviated season with limited attendance “made us all realize how much we appreciate college football, what it means across our nation, but most importantly, I think we saw what it means to the young people who participate in the game of college football.
“We had to reimagine a season, how to start again after stopping, how to play the games in the COVID environment, and how to begin when a team was disrupted,” he said. “We had to make that change happen, and I’m proud of the role the SEC played in making certain there was a 151st consecutive season of college football.”
Coming into the 2021 season, college football has the transfer portal in which players can go to a school one time and not have to sit out and lose a year of eligibility.
“This year’s transfer portal had over 1,600 FBS scholarship recipients enter. There are still 1,100 active in that portal across all Division I sports, over 13,000 entered, and over 11,000 still remain,” Sankey said. “There’s not enough information for me to explain that data, but we have a responsibility to dig deeper because it’s not good enough just to provide flexibility. We have to understand the impacts of our decision-making. We also have to understand how to support an environment that provides more flexibility, permits legitimate transfers, while holding to account those who tamper and want to turn college rosters into their personal recruiting grounds.”
Name, image and likeness are now a part of the college landscape in which student-athletes can earn money like every other college student. According to Sankey, “the NCAA’s temporary rules governing name, image, and likeness were a necessary reality, but those interim policies are no substitute for a uniform national standard.
“We all will benefit from a standard that supports the interests of student-athletes while preventing exploitative practices with policies that can be understood and administered by universities and colleges at every level, while also providing prospective student-athletes with clarity as they are recruited nationally across state lines and have to understand the different name, image, and likeness laws,” Sankey said. “Because state laws are either inconsistent or nonexistent, the NCAA rules can no longer resolve key issues.”
Sankey called for a federal solution as “we understand it’s difficult to gather the support for such federal legislation. However, congressional action is necessary if we’re going to provide every student a clear, consistent, and fair opportunity to benefit from their name, image, and likeness.”
Coming into this season, the question of a disruption during the season would cause a forfeit if a team cannot play. The SEC still has a roster minimum in play.
“What I’ve identified for consideration among our membership is we remove those roster minimums and you’re expected to play as scheduled,” Sankey said. “That means your team needs to be healthy to compete, and if not, that game won’t be rescheduled.”