SEC commissioner Mike Slive said a lot of interesting things today to kick off the conference's annual media circus in Birmingham, Ala., most of it without departing from the tentative reform agenda he and other conference commishes have been teasing for months now, or even longer. He'd like to lead a national discussion on beefing up the value of athletic scholarships, and offering multi-year scholarships with clear guidelines to head off the scourge of oversigning. He'd like to implement some financial means for former athletes to pursue undergraduate degrees outside of the current six-year window. He'd like to work with the NFL to reform restrictions on agents contacting college players. He'd like to "streamline" the NCAA rulebook by loosening tedious recruiting rules based on the "illusion" of a level playing field. Et cetera. At some point, he'd like to get his entire "National Agenda For Change" in front of the NCAA.
All of which, again, has been simmering underneath vague "discussing reform" headlines for most of the offseason — or almost all of it, anyway. Personally, I'd really love to be a fly on the wall of the room where Slive drops the following proposals for strengthening academic requirements to SEC coaches:
a) Increasing the minimum high school GPA for incoming freshmen from 2.0 to 2.5 in 16 required core courses. If a player doesn't clear the higher bar, he doesn't play as a freshman.
b) Extending the NCAA's "annual satisfactory progress" rule into high schools, to track prospective athletes' year-to-year academic performance beginning in the ninth grade. If a player doesn't meet annual standards, he doesn't play as a freshman.
c) Restoring the defunct "partial qualifier" status, which allows borderline athletes to enroll, receive scholarship money and practice with the team, but not participate in games until they've successfully completed a full academic year in college.
In proposal a), Slive is suggesting a fairly radical raising of the bar that a significant slice of SEC recruits — 20 percent? 30? Higher? — barely clears under the existing standards. In proposal b), he's either eliminating another large swath of recruits who don't begin to take grades seriously until later in their high school careers, or else forcing coaches to begin routinely identifying and actively recruiting kids at 13 years old — and forcing compliance departments to act as those kids' guidance counselors to make sure they stay on track. Otherwise, holding ninth and tenth-graders accountable for progress on annual basis is like trying to hold mice accountable for their initial progress after you've dropped them in the middle of a new maze.
Conference coaches, once they've had their eyeballs surgically restored to their sockets, are bound to question both the fairness and the unintended consequences of making it even more difficult to qualify to play SEC football, specifically as it relates to making their own jobs more difficult. This is a conference where coaches openly admit to pursuing borderline academic cases every year, occasionally use borderline academic cases to defend practices like oversigning and have actually called for lower admissions standards at their own universities. How can they possibly compete if borderline recruits flee en masse for the conferences that will accept them as they are? Does a guy like, say, Jadeveon Clowney deserve to be forced into a redshirt?
Presumably, that's where the national in "National Agenda For Change" comes in: Slive's aim is for wide-ranging, NCAA-wide reform, the kind that will distress coaches equally across the fruited plain. For taking control of the rampant agent infestation and doling out a few more bucks in scholarship money, there already appears to be a general consensus to begin lurching the bureaucracy in that direction, if not unanimity. As for dramatically altering the academic landscape for incoming freshman, well, least he knows he can count on the support of Duke, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Rice, Stanford, Vanderbilt and maaaaaaybe Michigan. Expect everyone else to suddenly develop a serious social conscience over the fate of the next Michael Oher.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.