SEC takes a positive, bold step with new transfer rules
HOOVER, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference has taken the high road when it comes to domestic violence, aiming to keep alleged abusers off their rosters even if it means they land in a rival league.
It’s a rare move that could put the SEC, which won seven straight national titles from 2006-2012, at a competitive disadvantage in some cases. So far, no other conference has put a similar rule into effect.
SEC schools passed a rule in May barring the signing of any athlete disciplined for serious misconduct at another college stop. The new rule defines a serious offense as "sexual assault, domestic violence or other forms of sexual violence."
Domestic violence advocate Katherine Redmond Brown said she was surprised and pleased that it was the SEC, known for its "crazy good competition," that first took this step.
"The message was long overdue because the NCAA has stayed relatively silent on the issue for years," said Brown, founder of National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. "Basically it was up to the conferences and individual schools to do something.
"To be honest, I never expected that it would be the SEC that would be the first to draw this line."
It wasn’t a coincidence that the SEC adopted the rule this year. Defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor was dismissed from Alabama after his arrest on a domestic violence charge a couple of months after signing. The woman in the case later recanted her story, but Taylor had already been kicked out of Georgia following a similar arrest.
Georgia proposed the new rule.
"That one was pretty cut and dry," said Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, adding that he wasn’t the one making the call to propose the rule.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said he doesn’t regret signing Taylor and that Taylor "didn’t really get the kind of due process before he was judged as maybe any person should." He added, however, that Taylor was signed under a zero tolerance policy.
"But I do think that this is an emotional issue that’s very, very complicated," Saban said. "It’s against the law, and we respect the law, and we will continue to do things that respect the law.
"I think that … we should be creating as many opportunities to try to solve this problem and use this as an opportunity to try to solve this problem with young people, male and female alike, because this is an issue across the board with any emotional relationship."
Beyond Taylor, the rule came after much-publicized domestic violence cases in the NFL, including Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy. Pro leagues across sports have grappled with the question of how to treat players who face domestic abuse allegations in the wake of the NFL cases.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, one of the league’s most high-profile players, said it was a line that needed to be drawn.
"I’m not going to be shy to say that maybe you shouldn’t play college football again with a domestic violence issue," Prescott said. "We shouldn’t have things like that in this day and time. As men, we need to get better and get past it."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said it’s a no-brainer: "I’ve always had a rule as a coach that if you ever hit a girl, you’re finished."
Spurrier isn’t worried about risking a potential competitive disadvantage by implementing the rule. "I’ve heard some coaches say that. I guess potentially it could be a little bit. But the SEC has their rules, and we live by them."
The league is considering targeting other misbehavior since the transfer rule doesn’t cover offenses like DUIs and drug-related arrests. New SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey is forming a working group this summer to look at the issue.
Sankey said the transfer rule is a starting point and shows "that there’s a greater conversation to have."
"That doesn’t predict more regulation or policy," he said. "It just says that we need to understand how our campuses handle these issues, what are the problematic areas, what are the legal and legislative expectations and how we can share best practices. Are there other issues to look at? Sure."
Brown, meanwhile, is waiting to see if other conferences follow the SEC’s lead on domestic violence. She’s set to work with one SEC school, Tennessee, this summer talking to administrators and players about the issue.
"I think it’s a tremendous step in the right direction," she said. "I would like to see other conferences follow suit because I think it was widely publicized and all the conferences knew what was done but they haven’t taken that same step. That to me is a little bit concerning.
"I think the SEC is exactly the right conference to have this emanating from."