Ann Arbor, MI. The Southeastern Conference champions itself as an institution that protects and promotes the rights of student athletes. Led by commissioner Greg Stankey, the conference has established itself as far and away the most powerful football league in the NCAA, and there is no denying the power and strength of the conference.
Indeed, the SEC has a justified reason for its power: They win. Eight of the last ten NCAA Football Champions have come from the conference. Even in basketball, the SEC has had great success. Three of the last eleven NCAA Basketball Champions have hailed from the SEC, tied with the ACC for the most over that time period.
This success has led to great power within the NCAA and in the sphere of athletics as a whole. ESPN, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports”, launched an entire network centered solely around the SEC, and hired polarizing SEC homers like Paul Finebaum as the networks’ top talent.
Given this success, there is no doubt the SEC is entitled to have a strong opinion within the NCAA. However, the opinion the SEC has expressed in recent years has not been to protect and champion the rights of student athletes. It has in fact been quite the opposite. Despite proclaiming itself as a conference of student athletes, recent issues like the satellite camp debate have exposed the entire SEC as the self-promoting, rule-breaking, greedy institution it is.
Before Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh began his seven-state, ten-camp “Summer Swarm” satellite camp tour last year, satellite camps had operated for over a decade with no issue. Camps like “Sound Mind, Sound Body” in Detroit (and now nationally) offered high school athletes the opportunity to showcase their ability to coaches from every level of college football.
Of course, big-time college football coaches used the clinics as recruiting tools, but the people who benefited most from these camps were unheralded prospects who were able to connect with smaller schools they would never have been exposed to. In this way, these camps were often the difference for inter-city athletes between being able to obtain a college education, or being forced to immediately enter the workforce to support their families. As virtually every sensible college football analyst will tell you, satellite camps are one of the best exposure tools for high school athletes unable to travel to campuses, often because of financial reasons.
Yet, after coaches like Jim Harbaugh began to use the camps to recruit high-level talent from SEC country, the SEC and its coaches decided that these camps needed to be stopped. Why? Not because they were not in the best interest of student-athletes. The SEC took a hard line stance against satellite camps because they were not in the best interest of the SEC Conference.
Leading the SEC’s charge to ban satellite camps was Mississippi head football coach Hugh Freeze. Freeze was quoted saying, “I’m selfish with my time. I’m away from my family enough, and I just did not want to go. I was ready to. We would’ve jumped in with the rest of them and gone to work. But I’m glad we can have a camp and I can sleep at home.”
If that quote does not show the true motivations of the SEC and its coaches, I do not know what does. Freeze admits he does not want to coach at satellite camps, not on the basis of student-athlete welfare, but because he does not want to work more. He does not want to compete with Jim Harbaugh for recruits in the South. He’d rather keep the region inaccessible to northern coaches so SEC coaches have their pick of southern talent. Instead of southern recruits truly being exposed to a wide array of schools to find what is truly is the best for them, Hugh Freeze does not want what is in the best interest of student-athletes. Hugh Freeze wants what is in the best interest of Hugh Freeze.
As the camp ban was overturned, it became an embarrassing blemish for the SEC conference. The strong response to the ban by recruits, coaches, fans, and analysts alike made it so the NCAA had little choice but to reverse the ban, and the SEC had little choice but to reverse its position on satellite camps. In fact, new conference legislation will know allow SEC coaches to participate in these clinics after years of being confined to clinics within 50 miles from their campus’. Yet if there was no response, the SEC and NCAA would not have overturned the ban despite the fact it was clearly not in the best interest of student-athletes. Why? Because it was not in the best interest of the SEC conference, and to people like Greg Stankey and Hugh Freeze, that’s all that matters.
Thursday night was another night that further exposed the true nature of the SEC conference. Ole Miss draft prospect Laremy Tunsil plummeted from a consensus top-5 pick to thirteen overall after video of him smoking a bong surfaced. I far from blame Tunsil for smoking, and anyone around the NFL can attest that marijuana is a popular way for athletes to cope with the pain associated with football. However, next screenshots of Tunsil asking an Ole Miss coach for financial assistance were also posted. When a reporter pressed Tunsil, asking if any Ole Miss coach had given Tunsil Money, Tunsil said, “I’d have to say yeah.”
Nothing may come of Tunsil’s admission that he received improper financial benefits from Ole Miss, as the NCAA can only investigate so much and has no right to interview Tunsil now that he is an NFL player. However, his admission is far from stunning. It, in fact, proves what many around college football have suspected for years: there is rampant cheating at Ole Miss and across the SEC conference.
Tunsil illuminated the fact, but it is not difficult to see how cheating could impact a program like Ole Miss. Prior to Freeze’s arrival, the Ole Miss program had struggled mightily for years. Yet Freeze, fairly unaccomplished for an SEC coach, came in and was immediately able to turn that program into a national powerhouse. Furthermore, in the book “The Blind Side” about the story of former Mississippi tackle Michael Oher, Oher outlined how boosters played a huge (and borderline illegal) role in his recruitment. Coupled with Ole Miss’ turnaround and Tunsil’s admission, it is not hard to believe that Ole Miss is cheating in order to gain an edge.
We may never know the full story behind Laremy Tunsil’s draft night and the events that transpired during his time at Mississippi. However, there is one thing that has become incredibly clear over the past year that requires no NCAA investigation to prove: The SEC has ditched promoting the rights of student athletes in favor of creating an athletic powerhouse where the needs of student athletes are conveniently ignored if they do not align with best interests of the conference. In short, the SEC will seek to win by any means necessary, regardless if these means are legal or illegal, ethical or unethical, or moral or immoral.
And while the SEC will shamelessly cheat, promote their interests, and hurt student-athletes, the conference led by Greg Stankey has, and will continue to operate under the guise that everything they do is to help student athletes. And that is why the SEC is the most hypocritical institution in America.