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VOL. 129 | NO. 136 | Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bragging Rights

Mike Slive has plenty to boast about as SEC Media Days commences

By Don Wade

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HOOVER, Ala. – Before he was done, Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive would quote Muhammad Ali, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, stump for the league’s new television network, and remind the world that the “autonomy of the SEC and the other four conferences” is really all that matters.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive talks to the media during the SEC Football Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. Slive had plenty to brag about when it comes to SEC football – just not a national title.  

(Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports)

Such was the kickoff of SEC Media Days on Monday, July 14, at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham. Slive, as always, would reach into his “SEC Brag Bag,” but the bragging was a little less robust this time around.

Florida State stopped the SEC’s streak of national titles at seven straight with its 34-31 victory over Auburn in Pasadena last January; this resulted in Slive having to change his usual wording, saying, “We competed for our eighth consecutive football national title championship. The game was just a minute too long.”

Slive gave the new SEC Network, set to launch Aug. 14, several minutes of his time and admitted mid-sentence: “This is a commercial.”

There are still providers not on board – most notably Comcast and DirecTV in the Memphis area – but Slive did not sound concerned.

“Rest assured, there are ongoing conversations with other major providers,” he said.

The commissioner also again spoke about NCAA reform and his league’s steadfast desire for restructuring amid efforts by student-athletes to gain change – and payment – through the court system.

“We are not deaf to the din of discontent across intercollegiate athletics that has dominated the news,” Slive said. “In the words of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, I quote, ‘Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.’”

Consider Slive the driver of this locomotive for change in the NCAA.

“As I have said before, if we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division 1, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and PAC-12) and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student-athletes.”

Asked if student-athletes deserved more, senior Auburn center Reese Dismukes said: “We’ve got a lot right now and do pretty good for ourselves, but who couldn’t use extra money?”

The SEC brand may need no introduction – for the 16th straight year the league led the nation in attendance and averaged about 76,000 fans per game – but the SEC did lose college football’s designated lightning rod in Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is now a mere subplot in Cleveland behind LeBron James.

No one here, by the way, has started referring to Auburn QB Nick Marshall as Nicky Football. But there were questions about Marshall having received a citation from police for marijuana possession. The incident resulted in Auburn coach Gus Malzahn sacking Marshall’s scheduled appearance at SEC Media Days, saying to come here is a “privilege.”

Malzahn also said Marshall would face punishment, but declined to say if he would be suspended or what the consequences might be. Presumably, being made to watch volleyball on the SEC Network is on the table.

Of course, every league in all the land will have players who run afoul of the law in major or minor ways. All things considered, Marshall’s transgression is much less damaging – much less of a laugh line – than Seminoles QB and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston’s infamous end run with crab legs from a Publix.

As for the upcoming football season, no less than four SEC teams – Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina – are part of the early national title conversation in the first season of the four-team playoff.

Slive referenced Churchill in the context of NCAA reform, saying “continuous effort is the key to unlocking our potential.” And after coming within about a minute of winning the national championship for themselves – and yes, at some level, for the SEC – Dismukes essentially said the Tigers were channeling Churchill.

“Last season’s over,” Dismukes said. “What we did last year is not going to help us win games this year.”

And so it is for one and all. Let the race for filling up Mike Slive’s Brag Bag begin.

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