HOOVER, Alabama — Winston Churchill. Dwight Eisenhower. Nelson Mandela. Booger McFarland.
Those were the names mentioned as part of Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive’s opening remarks when not only Media Days, but the 2014 college football season unofficially kicked off in typical fashion Monday morning.
Hank Aaron, who hails from the Mobile area, actually got the first historical reference while former University of Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy and the LSU defensive lineman with the colorful nickname (McFarland’s real first name is Anthony) got a plug for being part of the new high-profile SEC Network.
“It’s an historic time,” the commissioner said, and even though he didn’t make any bold pronouncement like he often does at this annual convention at the Wynfrey Hotel, there’s no way to get around that fact.
After years of wrangling, arguing and dragging everyone to the promised land of a playoff, college football will finally have what every other division and sport does at the end of the season, a tournament to determine its champion.
“Bring the playoff,” is more just a slogan now, it’s finally a reality, and like many expected the debate hasn’t ended, just shifted. Instead of “if” there should be a playoff, it’s now centered on “how” the teams will be selected. Still to come will be the demands for an eight-team field instead of four, which will start building when the first field is finally set.
“I think it’s safe to say the SEC champion will be in the final four,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “If you look at the last few years, numerous times there would be two teams from the SEC in the final four.
“I think the first year especially there will be a lot of learning about the new process and how everything is handled.”
Regardless, never again should there be an argument about a possible split title or over the sanctity of a bowl game. Combined with the launch of the previously mentioned SEC Network on August 14, and college football simply won’t be the same after this fall.
This year, though that’s just the beginning.
Slive and the SEC have made it no secret that they’re no longer content with the current state of the NCAA, and on Monday he reiterated that by again calling for immediate restructuring. While that and more may be coming anyway with the O’Bannon class action lawsuit, one of numerous legal challenges the governing body is currently facing, the big five conferences are now more than ever flexing their muscle.
They’ve asked, make that demanded, more autonomy, and the steering committee weighing all the issues involved will soon make final recommendations that will likely lead to just that. Once the mechanism is in place, everything’s on the table for possible reform — stipends, travel allowances for family, etc.
“It’s critical for the NCAA to change,” Slive said. “We are not deaf to the din of discontent.”
This is a lot more than essentially saying, “Play by our rules or we’re taking our ball and going home,” and Slive already knows he’ll get his way. The only questions are how and when, and as a result we might potentially see more change during this one year/season than any in the sport’s history.
“If we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student‑athletes,” Slive said while carefully choosing his words.
Perhaps he should have quoted Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and “Carry a big stick,” because no one in college athletes can swing a bigger one.
“As Muhammad Ali said, ‘It’s not bragging if you can back it up,” said Slive, who still calls this the Golden Age of the conference. “One of my goals as commissioner was to build a bridge to the future. Much of it is in place.”