On Tuesday, the most powerful Football Conference in the country, the SEC, will gather it’s most important conference officials, school representatives and its coaches to meet in the Florida panhandle with several interesting subjects on the table.
It’s the 2019 version of the annual “SEC Spring Meetings” in Destin. And this year, subjects like alcohol sales inside of SEC venues, legalized gambling and even the ever-growing player “transfer portal” will be part of of the discussion:
Betting, booze and transfers up for discussion at SEC meetings https://t.co/twfjAqQMCB
— AJC (@ajc) May 27, 2019
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey gave some comments to the Associated Press on Sunday at the baseball tournament championship game in Alabama previewiing that alcohol and gambling were going to be two items at the forefront later this week.
The SEC is the only conference of the “Power Five” that currently does not allow alcohol sales within the general seating at the stadium. Alcohol is allowed in the club or sweet sections of SEC venues, including at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.
This obviously represents a humongous revenue opportunity for the schools and a way to draw more fans back into SEC stadiums. This is particularly as the Southeastern Conference has seen in attendance lag over the past few years, including reaching a 16 year low in 2018.
However, the SEC still by and large has much more football attendance than any other power conference and that’s primarily because of the passion and the tradition and success of the programs. Alcohol sales may or may not matter that much.
In terms of legalized sports betting after last year’s Supreme Court ruling, numerous states within the conference have already legalized it or are in the process of doing so. Tennessee earlier this month became the latest to join Alabama Mississippi and Louisiana in legalizing betting within their states.
At this point, there’s not much that Sankey and the conference can do, except continue to be vigilant on how gambling might infect the credibility of the games being played on Saturdays
Finally, another subject that is a growing concern for the NCAA, and the Southeastern Conference specifically, is the transfer portal. That allows players to immediately depart a program and have any other institution be notified to essentially re-recruit them. Hundreds and hundreds of football and basketball players have taken advantage of the portal over the past few years.
Florida had a prominent incoming freshman defensive back, Chris Steele, very quickly and publicly depart Dan Mullen’s program earlier this Spring and landed at Oregon after being in the portal.
Further on the transfer subject, the SEC has finally relented on letting players be able to transfer to a school within the conference. This applied to year ago to Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson, who was cleared to join Florida after having played the previous year at Ole Miss.
One other subject that will apparently be discussed among the SEC football coaches but may not gain much more traction is an LSU request that the league revisit permanent opponents in the opposite division for football.
LSU has long complained with the difficulty of the SEC West that they should not be forced to regularly play Florida as a permanent opponent. Rather, the Bayou Bengals would like to see their Eastern opponents rotate evenly.
The league is unlikely to budge on their long-standing policy since going to the two division format of having permanent rival matchups. This is because Alabama has traditionally played Tennessee for over 70 years and the same as the recent 50+ years of the Auburn-Georgia Rivalry. Those are two examples of the SEC permanent schedule cross division being great for the league.
And, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning on a day in which you won the lottery then having the SEC do away with those two rivalry matchups each year.
Quarterback uncertainty dominates state schools
One thing is for certain as we head towards the 2019 college football season, around the state of Florida most of the prominent programs have more questions than answers at their quarterback position.
This was magnified last Wednesday, when it was learned that UCF’s presumed starter to begin the 2019 season, Darriel Mack, Jr., had suffered a non-football injured broken ankle. And, he is now out indefinitely. That has now thrown a real curve ball into Coach Josh Heupel’s plan to have Mack be the guy, but potentially be challenged by Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush.
Now, it appears that it’s Wimbush’s job and Mack may end up being medically redshirted all together.
There is equal instability in both Miami and Tallahassee. And, in both of the cases of Florida State and the Canes, a veteran transfer may end up being in their mix immediately, as well.
For the Noles, after the January dismissal of last year’s starter Deondre Francois, junior James Blackman will apparently be the quarterback for this season. However, the pressure is on second year boss, Willie Taggart, and he secured left-handed Wisconsin graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook, who could become the guy very quickly, if Blackman falters or should get injured.
Meanwhile, in Miami the Hurricanes are excited for Ohio State transfer Tate Martell (photo above) coming to them and winning an NCAA waiver ruling to make him immediately eligible. Miami does have part-time 2018 starter N’Kosi Perry that they can go to at the beginning of the year, but it’s believed that Martell will eventually take over the offense of new coordinator Dan Enos and maybe, soon.
The other two prominent programs in the state both return an experienced starter.
In Gainesville, the Gators will turn things back over to senior Feleipe Franks for the third consecutive year. Franks improved under Dan Mullen and his staff in 2018 and even though his statistics weren’t tremendous, he won critical games at the end of the year against South Carolina, FSU and the huge “New Year’s Six” bowl win over Michigan.
Clearly, the Gators are in the best shape of all state programs and want Franks to help lead them to what they believe could be an SEC East Division winning season in 2019.
And finally, that USF Bulls will also return veteran quarterback Blake Barnett for his second season in Tampa Bay. Barnett played very well at the beginning of last season as USF and coach Charlie Strong started at 7 – 0. However, with Barnett banged up down the stretch of the year, the Bulls faltered losing their final six games.
Barnett won’t face a challenge from last year’s backup and part-time starter Chris Oladokun, as he has transferred out of the program. So, the hope is the former Alabama and Arizona State quarterback can recapture some of the form that we saw last season. Then, the Bulls should be a bowl contender again this year.
Still that’s not certain.
And in Tampa, Tallahassee, Orlando and Miami, they want QB answers, too.
What does UConn leaving American for Big East mean for USF/UCF?
Get ready for another round of potential chaotic conference expansion speculation and maneuvering. And for USF and UCF there has to be simultaneous excitement but also concern with the latest news.
First, a report on Friday night that the University of Connecticut (or UConn, as they are commonly known) is about to suddenly depart the American Athletic Conference and return to their previous longtime conference home, the Big East.
The website and publication “Digital Sports Desk” had the story first that the Huskies are on the verge of departing the American and being back with some familiar foes in the Northeast, as soon as 2020:
BREAKING: #SportsBiz – Digital Sports Desk has learned, the University of Connecticut Huskies are making plans to return to the Big East Conference for basketball, according to multiple sources who could not comment publicly – visit https://t.co/Lqe1nySVZV
— DigitalSportsDesk (@DigSportsDesk) June 22, 2019
The outlet, which is based in Boston, reported that the only immediate holdup is UConn trying to figure out what happens with its flailing football program that went 1 – 11 and 0-8 in the American last year.
This is because, the Big East, since reconstituting in 2014, has gone back to its previous “basketball powerhouse” mentality of the 1980s in recent years. And, therefore, all of its members don’t rely on football any longer. Further example of this is: none of the current Big East members have a Division One football program.
The prominent basketball centered original members of the Big East like Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence, wanted to go back to the previous model and mindset.
Speaking of prominent members, UConn’s men won NCAA hoop titles in 1999, 2004 and 2009, while in the Big East and a fourth title in 2014. And, their women’s program under legendary coach Geno Aurieamma has won 11 National Championships.
With the others departing in 2014, the American Conference formed, with existing Big East teams like USF, Cincinnati and UConn joining up with schools like Houston, Memphis, SMU and of course, UCF on invites.
The American began playing football in 2014, as well, and has 12 football playing schools currently, including the U.S. Naval Academy.
More than likely, the Huskies will have to become a football independent at the Division One or FBS level at least in the short-term, and may actually consider dropping back to the FCS level, where they once played. This is because of the significant money drain that football can be on a program that is unsuccessful and losing money for a long amount of time.
Mike Anthony of the Hartford Courant reported on Saturday morning that UConn is awaiting an official invitation but formal announcement could come very quickly that the Huskies will go back into the conference that they helped form in 1979:
I can confirm that UConn is awaiting official invitation to the Big East and a formal announcement of the move is forthcoming. First reported by @DigSportsDesk
UConn football likely lands in another conference or goes independent, starting in 2020 season.
— Mike Anthony (@ManthonyCourant) June 22, 2019
Now, for the reality for the rest of the American teams?
Will there be new openings and opportunities forthcoming for schools like: Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, and of coursre, USF and UCF to jump to another League? The first and most obvious point is that another conference that has football has to start dealing invites.
And there’s not a guarantee that it will happen.
The widespread belief is that the Big XII, which currently is constituted with only 10 schools, would be that conference to invite at least two, but as many as possibly six teams to become a “super conference.” And therefore, it would make the Big XII much more attractive when all of its television deals are up in the early 2020s.
If going to 16 teams is the case, then the USF Bulls and the UCF Knights would be in prime position, as a Florida package deal to join in, with the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. It has been long speculated that Houston, because of its media market size and SMU (Dallas) for the same reason, would be offered.
And, the fact that the Cougars and the Mustangs are schools, who were previously with current Big XII teams, Texas, TCU, Baylor, and Texas Tech in the old Southwest Conference, would be the logical choices to fit in to the Big XII, if they only expand back by two more teams.
The Big XII also stands to have a massive new TV and internet multi-media deal for it’s schools soon.
Keep in mind that in March the American just announced television multi media rights and revenue deal for its member schools. And, the 12 year $1 billion deal with ESPN was supposed to entice teams to stay. Also, Commissioner Mike Aresco got the league member schools to agree to a more significant penalty for leaving and sign away, “grant of rights” for trying to leave for another conference.
That means that UConn or anyone else, gives up their all of their TV revenue and other outside of the conference money for the next few years, if they try to leave.
That’s why UConn essentially downgrading football anyway, makes more sense in this scenario.
UCF has won the American Conference Football Championship in each of the last two years (above) and represented the conference in a New Year’s Six Bowl game both times. They stunned the Auburn Tigers in the 2018 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, but lost a year ago to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Both games were a massive financial windfall for the Knights and the American.
USF is also extremely attractive because the Tampa Bay television market is number 11 in the country and has a huge football fan base. The Bulls also have had recent success, including an 11 win season in 2017.
Meanwhile, the American could obviously add schools (like they did before) from Conference USA or the Sun Belt to replace UConn or any other members that try to leave.