The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Commissioner Sankey Addresses the Era of Change

13 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: Jimmie Mitchell

At his first SEC Kickoff Media Days appearance as commissioner in 2015, Greg Sankey opened with a Bob Dylan lyric from "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

He reminded us Monday as he kicked off The Return of SEC Media Days. One line from that song in particular resonated: "Don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in spin."

The changes in collegiate athletics in the last year alone are enough to make your head spin. Sankey offered his thoughts on some of those changes. The highlights:

On the current status of SEC football programs in the ongoing battle against COVID-19, Sankey noted that six of the conference's 14 football programs have reached the 80 percent vaccination threshold.

"That number needs to grow and grow rapidly," he said. "We know how to manage through a COVID environment, but we do not yet have control of the COVID environment."

Sankey mentioned high-profile examples of continuing COVID disruption, such as North Carolina State having to leave the College World Series early.

"Let me be clear to our fans, to our coaches, to our staff members and to our student-athletes," he said. "COVID-19 vaccines are widely available. They've proven to be highly effective. And when people are fully vaccinated, we all have the ability to avoid serious health risks, reduce the virus' spread and maximize our chances of returning to a normal college football experience and to normal life."

On the new era of student-athletes being able to profit on their Name, Image and Likeness, which began July 1 thanks to legislation in various states, Sankey advocated for "a uniform national standard."

"Because state laws are either inconsistent or nonexistent, the NCAA rules can no longer resolve key issues," Sankey said. "We need a federal solution. We understand it's difficult to gather the support for such federal legislation. However, congressional action is necessary if we're going to provide every student a clear, consistent, and fair opportunity to benefit from their name, image, and likeness."

On NCAA President Mark Emmert's recent call to reconsider the NCAA's traditional role in governing collegiate athletics, perhaps assigning more responsibility in some areas to the conferences and their member schools, Sankey said he was "pleased," considering Division I alone includes 351 campuses and 32 conferences.

"The expectations, demands and pressures that are present on the campuses of this conference are not uniform across all of Division I, and expecting every conference to come together to debate, discuss and produce effective decisions for everyone is not our modern reality," Sankey said. "We must begin to adapt."

Overall, in this era of unprecedented change, Sankey suggested that "a national dialogue is needed on what is expected of college sports."

"All of that illustrates our reality that we must change, but as we think about change, we must remember that not everything is broken around college sports," Sankey said. "We need a reminder about the many positive realities that don't receive full or accurate attention because we need to work, we need to understand what works well and what needs to be sustained as we look towards the future in this expectation of change."