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SEC Spring meetings underway in Destin

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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:

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.

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Coaches and rosters finalized for East-West Shrine Bowl

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL and the newly-renamed East-West Shrine Bowl are finalizing not only their player rosters, but their coaching staffs for next Saturday’s game in St Petersburg, FL.

Late this week, the longest running college all-star game, the East West Shrine Bowl, named its head coaches, both of whom have ties to the Tampa Bay Area.

Bucs inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell will coach one of the teams, while former Buccaneers and current Falcons tight end coach, Ben Steele will be in charge of the other.

Caldwell, who came to the Buccaneers in Bruce Arians’ first season has been in the NFL for a total of 11 years and had previously served as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the New York Jets under Todd Bowles for 4 seasons.

Steele, who has coached in the NFL for seven seasons reunited with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter  in Atlanta after previously having been his tight end coach in Tampa Bay last year.

Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl, said in a statement about the coaching selections,

 “We’re very excited to have Mike Caldwell and Ben Steele as head coaches for our East-West Shrine Bowl all-stars,” said Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl. “Ben was a coordinator for our 2019 game and both coaches have ties to the Tampa/St. Pete area. They will lead two strong staffs of NFL assistant coaches that will be invaluable to our players as they begin their own journey to the NFL”

Meanwhile, the rosters do have some Florida flair, as several noteworthy names will be on the East team. That’s led by speedy UCF running back Adrian Killins, Gators wide receiver Freddie Swain and USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox. On the East defensive squad, FAU linebacker Rashad Smith, Miami linebacker Shaq quarterman and UCF defensive back Neville Clark are part of the roster.

This will be the 95th playing of the East-West Shrine Bowl and it boasts 71 Pro Football Hall of Famers that have played in their game. And, they also had more than 300 players who were on an NFL roster for Week 1 last year that have played in the East-West Shrine Bowl.

The game also announced that there will be four legendary mentors working with the players in practices later this week in St Pete. Those include: Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields, Super Bowl Champion defensive end Willie McGinest, as well as, long time safety Bobby Taylor and long time wide receiver Amani Toomer.

The game will be played at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball Tampa Bay Rays and televised nationally on the NFL Network at 3 p.m., Eastern Time next Saturday.

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New Year’s Day has prominent teams in Florida Bowls

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As the new year begins, traditional college football bowl games will be taking place. And even though there are no Florida teams battling on New Year’s Day, there are two prominent bowl games in the state.

First, two of college football’s “Blue Bloods” play Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines will do battle in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Both programs come off of disappointing end to their regular-season, as they both lost to their rivals. Alabama dropping a wild 48 – 45 game in the Iron Bowl to Auburn and Michigan losing badly 56-27 to Ohio State and their finale at home.

The Tide are without All American caliber quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who suffered a fractured hip late in the year. However, Nick Saban has arguably the best wide receiving corps in all of college football to compensate for Tagovailoa’s absence.

Michigan has perennially under-achieved under coach Jim Harbaugh, but would love nothing better than to score a head-to-head win against Bama in this one.

Meanwhile across I-4 in Tampa, the 25th playing of the Outback Bowl will take place and it’s a first-time matchup between the SEC Auburn Tigers and the big Ten’s Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The Gophers were Darlings of the Big Ten late in the year that they got to 9 – 0 for only the second time in program history before faltering with losses to Iowa and Wisconsin which knock them out of the Big Ten championship game. Their coach P.J. Fleck is the Big Ten coach of the year and has done an amazing job of making Minnesota nationally relevant.

As for the Tigers, we mentioned the victory over Alabama which was particularly sweet for Coach Gus Malzahn, who has been under fire in recent years for not living up to success earlier in the 2010s. Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix, the son of the former Auburn star Patrick Nix, leads a high-powered attack that will look to finish the season on a winning note. The Tigers lost their three biggest games of the year to Florida, LSU, and Georgia, but wins over Alabama and Minnesota will help.

The Gophers have had their most important season since they played in the Rose Bowl in 1962 and would love nothing better than to upset the Tigers in this one.

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