At Media Days, new SEC commissioner calls for renewed commitment to compliance

New SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey addresses the media Monday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

HOOVER, Ala. — Befitting someone with a background in compliance and enforcement, the SEC’s new commissioner used the league’s annual preseason media conference as a platform to stress the need for winning the right way.

“While we may not win them all, we will aspire to achieve that goal, and we will do so with our heads held high,” Greg Sankey said Monday in an address which kicked off SEC Media Days 2015. His aim is to “never return a championship, never pull down a championship banner, never vacate any wins, and never have a team banned from postseason competition due to NCAA infractions or the lack of academic success under the NCAA’s academic performance program.”

Toward that end, Sankey said the SEC is adding William King as the league’s new associate commissioner for legal affairs and compliance. “We all realize the collective loss associated with compliance problems,” Sankey added. “... We have made great strides forward as a conference, and we cannot accept even one step back.”

Sankey succeeded Mike Slive, who cleaned up the SEC’s once probation-tarnished reputation, on June 1. Formerly Slive’s right-hand man, Sankey managed the league’s day-to-day operations and reshaped the SEC’s governance, enforcement and compliance programs. The SEC has not had a school banned from postseason play since 2004.

So it was no surprise that compliance was a central theme to his first Media Days address. Sankey also said the SEC will form two working groups, chaired by the presidents or chancellors of member schools, one of which will reexamine athlete conduct and another of which will look at compliance and enforcement.

“It’s been 10 years, actually almost 11, since we examined these issues and developed collective support on particular points of how we would act as a conference,” he said. “As we look forward, we have an opportunity to lead on national policy and continue to properly manage our compliance and enforcement issues in another rapidly changing landscape.”

While Sankey admitted that coaches clearly have a responsibility for the athletes on their rosters, “there’s a balance between the time demands placed on young people, the free time that can create problems, and their ability to mature and make their own decisions,” he added. “And I think that’s part of why it’s healthy for us to have the exact conversation I anticipate occurring over the next 12 to 24 months.”

On other matter, Sankey praised the leadership at the University of South Carolina, mentioning president Harris Pastides by name, in building momentum toward last week’s removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. But he stopped short of applying any official pressure on Mississippi, which uses the Confederate banner as part of its state flag.

Sankey was commissioner of the Southland Conference before joining the SEC, and took some time Monday to reminisce about the drive from his native New York State to his new home in Natchitoches, La. En route he traveled through the heart of SEC country, and recalled rolling through Knoxville, staying at a run-down motel in Birmingham, and encountering a Mississippi state trooper along the way.

“We have lived our entire adult lives since that moment in July of 1989 in the footprint of the Southeastern Conference,” he said. “And so it’s with great pride that I’m here today.”