SEC commissioner Greg Sankey calls for changes to NCAA system: 'We must begin to adapt'

·4 min read

Things need to change with the NCAA and college athletics.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey expressed that sentiment Monday during his yearly address at SEC Media Days. He doesn’t exactly “know the path forward,” but he believes that the current NCAA structure is in dire need of adjusting. 

At one point, Sankey said the 450-plus page NCAA manual “seems less relevant today than it ever has before.”

According to a Sports Illustrated story published earlier Monday, Sankey has “suggested the need for a new governance model, has lobbied for more autonomy for the Power 5 conferences and has chided the NCAA Board of Governors for its lack of transparency and resistance to change.”

“I am highly concerned that we are not as effective as we need to be in our current environment,” Sankey told SI.

Sankey added to reporters Monday: “The expectations, demands and pressures that are present on the campuses of this conference are not uniform across all of Division I, and expecting every conference to come together to debate, discuss and produce effective decisions for everyone is not our modern reality. We must begin to adapt.”

With last month’s Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA, and name, image and likeness payments now in effect thanks to intervention from state legislatures, president Mark Emmert has finally acknowledged that the NCAA is at a crossroads. In an interview session with a small group of reporters last week, Emmert — long opposed to any adaptability or change — said a decentralized version of the structure of college athletics is worth considering.

From the Associated Press:

[Emmert] laid out a vision for the future of college sports that puts fewer limitations on athletes and de-emphasizes the role of a national governing body like the NCAA, which was founded 115 years ago and oversees more than 450,000 students who play sports.

“When you have an environment like that it just forces us to think more about what constraints should be put in place ever on college athletes. And it should be the bare minimum,” Emmert said.

Sankey was happy to see the change of heart from Emmert.

“I was pleased by President Emmert’s call to reconsider the responsibilities of the national office of conferences and campuses. While not knowing the path forward, we desire this necessary dialogue as it remains important for college athletics to have an effective governing body,” Sankey said.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks to reporters during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks to reporters during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Will the Power Five split from the rest of the NCAA?

When asked if it’s time for the Power Five conferences to break away from the rest of the NCAA to some extent, Sankey pushed back.

“That’s not the focus,” Sankey said. “Are we closer [to splitting off]? Not in my imagination. I do think we all have to be mindful of the reality in front of us, and as I noted, when President Emmert spoke about the need for change and reimagining the national office role, the conference role, and the campus role, that doesn’t speak to your question, but it does speak to that we’re going to have to administer this differently. That’s likely the next process."

Sankey predicts people both within the SEC and nationally will ask him about the Power Five breaking away, but he "doesn’t predict that kind of outcome at this point.”

“I think some high-level thought focused on specific elements is at the core of this, and we can add, but we’re not going to solve every problem and be able to legislate college athletics programs through the NCAA manual," Sankey said. 

Sankey has especially been frustrated with the NCAA enforcement process — particularly its lack of timeliness.

“Those accused of violations deserve a fair and timely outcome, and those who compete against those accused of violations deserve that same fair and timely outcome. And the national process for accountability must focus on issues of primary importance with cases resolved in the most timely manner possible,” Sankey said.

Sankey also called for a “federal solution” to establish consistent name, image and likeness rules nationwide.

“Because state laws are either inconsistent or nonexistent, the NCAA rules can no longer resolve key issues,” Sankey said.

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