David J. Neal: SEC’s Mike Slive takes aim at NCAA

“Secession,” a word often associated with the South in our nation’s history, starts with “SEC.” I couldn’t help thinking about that as Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive fired on the NCAA during his Tuesday remarks at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Oh, Slive said the NCAA would still have the SEC’s support as the overall governing body of collegiate sports. Then, he followed with words that made that sound like the vote of confidence or the declaration of love before the divorce.

“We have supported and will continue to support the NCAA as the appropriate governing organization for intercollegiate athletics, but at the same time, however, we will continue to push for changes we believe are in the best interest of our student-athletes,” he said.

“The NCAA has not been successful in meeting the full cost of attendance of our student-athletes. … Conferences and their member institutions must be allowed to meet the needs of their student-athletes,” he continued. “In recent conversations with my commissioner colleagues, there appears to be a willingness to support a meaningful solution to this important change.”

Now, Slive is not exactly fighting for the working man’s rights out of a deep admiration for John L. Lewis or Eugene V. Debs. The areas the SEC dominates in recruiting, especially for football, include some of the poorest, least educated areas of the country. College is where many of us learned how to stretch a dollar, often one sent from home. SEC football and basketball teams are filled with kids who don’t have a dollar to stretch.

That’s how you lose athletes who can perpetuate your rule on the field. You can also lose athletes who might have no other shot at an education and upward mobility. That doesn’t help them. Nor does it help your school’s Academic Progress Rate, which could drop enough to cause the NCAA to start swinging the switch on your program’s behind.

Of course, Slive wondered about the NCAA’s basic structure. Again, sounds like someone who wants a new government.

“For example, what changes need to be made to the NCAA structure to provide significant roles for the stakeholders, the presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, institutional administrators, conference administrators, and coaches?” he asked. “What is the proper role, function and composition and size of the NCAA Board of Directors? Do we need all of the services provided by the NCAA’s national office, its many committees and task forces, or are some of these services better provided elsewhere?

“And how do we streamline the NCAA committee and legislative processes to provide leaders and visionaries who will ensure the NCAA’s future?”

People with juice rarely get up in public and ask questions that start with “Do we need all …?” unless they already have thought about it and concluded the entity in question is superfluous.

The SEC dominates the most lucrative (and, occasionally, profitable) sport, the highest profile sport, the sport that has driven so much of the conference jumping the past few years. Their teams make for good TV, too. Alabama, Florida, LSU, South Carolina (under Steve Spurrier) and Georgia inspire feelings, one way or another, in a way that, say, Ohio State doesn’t (outside of Michigan).

This irresistibly titled College Football Playoff won’t eliminate the simple fact that, like rich unincorporated areas of a financially troubled county, a few conferences draw the major bucks in football and basketball. And it has been suggested that, sooner or later, the schools in those conferences will and should secede from the NCAA.

In fact, one of the folks doing the suggesting over the past couple of years is Kentucky coach John Calipari, head of the SEC’s premier basketball program.

So perhaps this will be a day worth remembering a few years down the road when sports page headlines across the country read “THE NCAA IS DISSOLVED.”