SEC has issues at media days

Published 2:32 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bar brawls and NCAA investigations will be hot topics at the Southeastern Conference media days — not just national championships.

Troubling events have made headlines in the two weeks leading up to the three-day SEC event that begins Wednesday. There was a bar brawl involving Tennessee players and there are potential NCAA troubles brewing at Florida and South Carolina.

The latest — and potentially biggest — issue arose with a report Monday that Florida and the NCAA are investigating an allegation that former offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey got $100,000 from a representative of a sports agent before last season ended.

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The NCAA is also looking into a possible rules violation involving South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive declined to discuss specific issues involving Florida and South Carolina, but said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press that he would like the NCAA at some point to consider changes to rules involving agents.

“The agent issue is one that’s been of concern not only to us but I think to everyone associated with intercollegiate athletics and I do think it’s time to re-examine some of the NCAA rules that relate to agents,” he said. “I have felt for a long time that it would be helpful to be able to provide student-athletes with more information and more opportunities to learn what their professional potential might be than is currently allowed by NCAA rules.”

Florida coach Urban Meyer — and Pouncey’s brother, Mike — are scheduled to appear at media day on Wednesday afternoon.

Slive said the SEC had already taken steps to help member schools deal with agent issues before the recent NCAA investigations.

The league brought in consultant Joe Mendes earlier this year to meet with officials at all 12 institutions, “and several have retained him to help provide the kind of information and knowledge that our student-athletes need to make good decisions about their future,” Slive said. “And to do it the right way and not in violation of NCAA rules.”

National champion Alabama is among the schools enlisting the services of Mendes, a longtime NFL executive who was vice president of football operations for the Washington Redskins. He now runs Cornerstone Sports Consulting in Leesburg, Va.

Slive steered clear of another hot-button topic — conference expansion — in his first interview since Nebraska and Colorado opted to bolt the Big 12 for the Big Ten and Pac-10, respectively, and Boise State headed to the Mountain West. He said he would address that briefly at the podium Wednesday.

Slive and the SEC were quiet players in that movement. Oklahoma president David Boren said the SEC extended offers to his school and Texas A&M.

The ongoing police investigation of a bar brawl in Knoxville, Tenn., involving several Volunteer football players is another black eye for the SEC.

All of the negative publicity is taking some of the luster off the big preseason event for a league that won its fourth consecutive national football title and divvied up $209 million among the 12 members last year. “I’m always concerned when there are issues off the field that (put focus) off the field rather than on the play on the field,” Slive said.

On the field, the SEC has enjoyed tremendous success.

And Slive isn’t reticent when it comes to touting it.

LSU, Florida and Alabama have captured the last four national titles — with the Gators winning two.

“That’s an extraordinary achievement,” Slive said. “It’s particularly extraordinary when you think about it’s been with three different teams. As extraordinary as it is, another one wouldn’t hurt.”

Having a 12-team league and championship game didn’t hurt, either. It matched No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama last year in what amounted to a playoff game — or at least a plus-one format that Slive pushed a year earlier. Adding teams could lead to similar title games in the Pac-10 and Big Ten.

“I can’t put myself in somebody else’s shoes, but clearly our championship game over the last several years has been of significant benefit to our league,” Slive said. “And last year, with the 1-2 teams playing in our game, all of a sudden we found ourselves with a plus-one. Not the kind of plus-one that I had envisioned but we’re still talking about a plus-one.”