SEC’s Greg Sankey visits, talks with trustees, leaders at South Carolina on changing sports landscape

Greg Sankey
Greg Sankey

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey told University of South Carolina trustees the league’s union with the Big Ten Conference was created to provide leadership for a challenging landscape in college athletics.

It is not, he said, a breakaway framework for the two healthiest, wealthiest leagues to run the game. The leagues announced their association earlier this month.

Solutions to the hot button issues of the college game today — like rules governing name, image and likeness and transfers — are difficult to advance in rooms with many administrators all with opinions and agendas.

“We felt it could be helpful if we could shrink those rooms,” Sankey said to school leadership, which included athletic director Ray Tanner.

Sankey came presented South Carolina’s women’s basketball team with a championship trophy after the top-ranked Gamecocks clinched a share of the SEC title with a 72-44 win over Alabama.

He said he’s not on a tour of league members to update leaders on the changing landscape, which includes officially adding Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC on July 1 to make it a 16-member league. Sankey is visiting Florida and Auburn this weekend.

Sankey said athletes have told him they want clarity in what’s become a sometimes muddled patchwork of state NIL laws — he said more than 30 states have some legislation regarding NIL; South Carolina lawmakers are debating such a rule — many which can complicate those competitors considering transfers.

“They ask us questions about how can our universities help us,” Sankey said. “How can we have these standards so we know our colleagues not just play by the same rules but have the same protection.”

Sankey believes the union with the Big Ten can help solve some of those problems. He understands, though, others are skeptical of the motives, particularly after the once-potent Pac-12 Conference will shrink to two members in Oregon State and Washington State after the latest realignment wave this past year.

Sankey recalled after his presentation to the trustees a recent NCAA Division I council meeting. He had several people ask him, “When are the Big Ten and SEC just going to tell us what they want?”

The motivation for the two getting together, he said, was understanding the expectation for leadership and understanding that responsibility.

The initial discussions were focused on the growing list of lawsuits, many advanced by state attorneys general, over NCAA transfer rules; and studying the “Project DI” proposal put forward in December by new NCAA president Charlie Baker.

“Those are really important issues, by the way,” he said.

Sankey would like uniformity in those rules for the benefit of those who play the games.

“I think our student athletes deserve better than this current atmosphere,” he said. “Also at the same, and this may seem like a dichotomy, there’s no better time to be a student-athlete in the history of college athletics."