HOOVER, Ala. — Unless you have been stranded on an island the past few months without television, radio or the Internet, you have probably heard the rumblings about a potential SEC Network one day.
The movement has even spawned a name: Project X.
During his state-of-the-conference address on Tuesday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive ushered rumor a little closer to fact.
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“There has been a whole lot of speculation about Project X. Is it still a secret? I don’t think so,” Slive told a captive audience at the SEC Football Media Days. “But we now call it Project SEC. Our objective long term to work with our television partner to provide fans with greater access to favored teams, more opportunities to watch rivals, and more insight into who we are: a conference of 14 great universities.”
Details remain scarce, but it appears the league is well on its way to creating a television network to serve its sports-hungry fans.
“I’d love to say more. I know you want me to say more,” Slive said. “I won’t say more. I will, though, before I get too much older and before you get too much older.”
OL’ BALL COACH IS OLDEST IN LEAGUE
During his days at Florida, Steve Spurrier often said he was amazed that coaches like Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden were still walking the sidelines into their 70s. No way, Spurrier stated any number of times, he’d still be coaching when he got to be that old.
Well, now in his eighth season at South Carolina, Spurrier turned 67 in April and just may have his best Gamecocks team to date. Don’t be surprised if USC isn’t picked to win the SEC East when the media’s preseason ballots are counted Thursday.
“I’ve been to this thing 20 years now,” Spurrier said. “But some of you guys have been 30, 40 years. They don’t fire media people.”
For the record, yes they do.
Spurrier went on to say he’s fortunate to have been in the league so long and was looking forward to what could be — and he always couches expectations with sayings like, “We got a chance” — a big season. That’s saying something, considering USC’s 11-2 record last fall marked the winningest in school history, capped by a victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
He also said he was feeling much better than this time a year ago, thanks to knee replacement surgery Jan. 5.
“Every time some sportswriter asks me how much longer I’m going to coach, I think I need to ask him how much longer he’s going to write,” Spurrier said. “What’s the difference?”
DO THE RIGHT THING
Penn State was never mentioned by name. Neither was late Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno nor anyone else associated with the school in the wake of a child sexual abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Still, Slive took a moment to remind everyone that no one person is greater than an institution during his state-of-the-conference address.
“We must maintain an honest and open dialogue across all levels of university administration,” Slive said. “There must be an effective system of checks and balances within the administrative structure to protect all who come in contact with it, especially those who cannot protect themselves.
“No one program, no one person — no matter how popular, no matter how successful — can be allowed to derail the soul of an institution.”
NOBODY’S DOORMAT ANYMORE
Last year, James Franklin came to Media Days, walked past radio row and even strolled through the mall attached to the Winfrey Hotel.
No one recognized him.
This year, he came to Hoover as the only first-year coach in Vanderbilt history to lead the Commodores to a bowl game.
He wasn’t nearly as inconspicuous.
“There’s a buzz about Vanderbilt football right now,” he said.
The Commodores went 6-7 last season, losing to Cincinnati 31-24 in the Liberty Bowl. They return nine starters on offense, including tailback Zac Stacy (1,193 yards, 14 TDs), and seven more on defense. And they have a coach who exudes confidence and believes he has the be-all, end-all college football product to sell.
The guy gets worked up just talking about Vandy.
“The sky’s the limit with us. I truly believe that. I think with the right kids from the right family, we can beat anybody,” Franklin said. “If you have a son, he’s a Division I player, he’s coming to Vanderbilt. … I know what Vanderbilt can do for your son for the next 40 to 50 years of his life — and an opportunity to play in the greatest football conference in America.
“You have an opportunity to chase both of your dreams at the highest level.”
JUST SAY ‘YES’ TO KICKOFFS
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was asked about a trending groundswell to eliminate the kickoff from college football, citing health risks from high-speed collisions.
Already this offseason, rules were passed to move kickoffs up to the 35-yard line (from the 30) to induce more touchbacks and cut five yards of momentum from the charging coverage team.
Sumlin, though, doesn’t want the changes to go any further, certainly not to the elimination phase. Why should he? In his final season at Houston, wide receiver Tyron Carrier tied an NCAA record with his seventh kickoff return for a touchdown.
“I think it’s something the fans like. I think it’s something the players enjoy. There’s an art to it,” Sumlin said. “It was a play for us. The first offensive play is for the return team and it can be a tone-setter. It’s been a part of football.”
QUOTE OF NOTE
“I’d get in big trouble for answering that one, I guarantee. Why don’t you email the city restaurant organization or something. I can name a couple restaurants, and I’d get in trouble. I can’t do that. A lot of great food, though.” — Missouri coach Gary Pinkel when asked by a reporter about restaurant suggestions for SEC fans coming to Columbia for the first time this season.
GatorZone.com’s Chris Harry contributed to this report.