Mike Slive challenges NCAA to revisit policies

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive kicked off SEC Football Media Days here Tuesday by firing a warning shot across the NCAA’s bow, issuing a renewed call for action on topics such as recruiting rules and concussions and calling into question the NCAA’s organizational structure.

In a statement later echoed by South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, Slive endorsed paying stipends to student-athletes. He did not go into specifics on the issue that threatens to divide the NCAA along class lines between wealthy BCS-level schools and hundreds of small-budget institutions.

“The NCAA has not been successful in meeting the full cost of attendance for our student-athletes,” he said. “Conferences and their member institutions must be allowed to meet the needs of their student-athletes.”

Slive said he is encouraged by the NCAA’s ongoing review of its governing structure, but asked whether schools need all the services provided by the national office.

“In order to deal with these and other national issues in an effective way, intercollegiate athletics requires remarkable and innovative leadership to slash through our Gordian knot,” he said. “Our challenges are complex. They always have been and they always will be.

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

The commissioner did not unveil a football schedule for 2014, saying instead that a review of various potential scheduling formats continues.

“In the meantime, we will continue to schedule based on the current 6-1-1 format pending the results of that review,” Slive said. LSU has lobbied against cross-divisional permanent opponents.

Slive said the SEC Network, which the conference will launch in August 2014 in conjunction with ESPN, “continues to take shape.”

The commissioner said he anticipates the SEC will “eclipse our initial target of 550 digital events in the early years of the network in addition to our 450 events on television.”

He also announced the network will feature a two-hour pregame show during football season, similar to ESPN’s “College GameDay” show, produced from a different SEC campus each week.

Slive opened by happily reaching into his “brag bag.”

He touted the SEC’s seventh straight BCS championship, an unprecedented six teams in the final USA Today coaches’ top 10, a record 63 NFL draft picks and a fourth Heisman Trophy winner (Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel) in the past six years. The SEC won seven national titles in 2012-13, giving it 86 titles since 2000.

But Slive also soberly addressed off-the-field issues involving current and former SEC student-athletes. Simple battery charges for LSU running back Jeremy Hill and murder charges against former Florida and New England tight end Aaron Hernandez are currently making headlines.

“Notwithstanding the fact that our institutions have mechanisms in place to recognize problems, support systems to address personal issues, policies to provide implementation of discipline and the willingness to enforce these policies, it is a crushing disappointment when, despite all of these efforts, a young person throws away the opportunity for a promising future,” Slive said.

“We are not naïve enough to think we can put an end to all unacceptable behavior. But that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to try, try and try.”