HOOVER, Ala. — Two programs are being investigated by the NCAA, and another recently settled a federal lawsuit over alleged Title IX violations. Are the SEC’s bad old days back again?
Perhaps not quite. Last August, for the first time since 1984, the conference reached a point where no member institutions were on NCAA probation. But that short-lived streak could end due to ongoing investigations into Ole Miss football and Missouri basketball, and the specter of backsliding was evident Monday in the opening session of SEC Media Days.
“Our institutions are expected and will continue to handle these matters with integrity,” commissioner Greg Sankey said in an address that kicked off the week. “We hope both of the current matters are completed in a timely manner. We understand there are issues that arise. That’s why the expectation for integrity is so high. And as we move forward together, we can’t have any more of those issues arise.”
Last year, in his first Media Days after succeeding Mike Slive, Sankey struck a firm tone declaring that no wins should ever be vacated and no championship banner should ever be taken down. He reiterated those same points Monday, trying to balance negative news with brighter points like no SEC programs being in the APR danger zone and 125 current or former athletes headed for the Olympics.
“We have made enormous progress,” said Sankey, whose predecessor Slive cleaned up a league that was a regular attendee at the NCAA infractions office. And yet, Ole Miss is under investigation for alleged violations occurring under head coach Hugh Freeze, who speaks Thursday. Missouri self-imposed sanctions for impermissible benefits which occurred under former basketball coach Frank Haith.
Tennessee last week settled for $2.48 million a federal lawsuit in which eight plaintiffs alleged a culture had been created on campus that led to sexual assaults. Mississippi State admitted a freshman football player shown on camera beating a woman during a fight. And Alabama cut ties with an assistant football coach reportedly over recruiting violations.
Last spring, the conference enacted a policy that prohibited transfers who had been dismissed from their previous schools for serious conduct issues such as sexual assault. Georgia president Jerry Moorehead chairs a working group examining student-athlete conduct. But clearly, there remains work to be done.
“Everyone in this conference, everyone, must understand the high expectations for their conduct, and the high level of scrutiny their conduct brings. Young people need to understand the serious consequences associated with their behaviors, and our leaders need to make certain the laws and expectations of society are unquestionably followed,” Sankey said.
“We’re committed to getting it right, because there’s so much good happening in the SEC on our 14 campuses. We can’t allow the actions of a very few to overshadow the great work and the great achievements being realized.”
And yet, on the same day Sankey spoke, reports surfaced that four Auburn players arrested in April for marijuana possession won’t miss any playing time. And almost all of the questions Sankey received from the media Monday at the Wynfrey hotel revolved around sexual assault and conduct policies. One was very direct: does the SEC have an image problem?
“The fact that there are headlines round the Southeastern Conference isn’t new. The fact that we come to Media Days, and there are maybe more extreme headlines, is not new,” Sankey said.
“If we really evaluate what is at the center of some of the recent articles, we’re talking about some issues that probably occurred in 2012 and 2013 that are just being adjudicated. We may be talking about one or two or three individuals, and their misbehavior. I don’t think that attaches properly to the entire conference. The body of work of this conference far outweighs those problems, yet we are attentive to those realities.”