SEC commissioner Greg Sankey addresses the crowd on the first day of the 2019 SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Alabama, on July 15, 2019. Sankey talked about the upcoming football season as well as the accomplishments of the SEC in the past football season. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

HOOVER, Ala. — Commissioner Greg Sankey opened up SEC Media Days speaking about the transformational period that college sports is currently undergoing.

Sankey mentioned that Monday was the first time since March 2020, when he effectively shut down SEC athletics due to COVID-19, that he stood in front of reporters to take questions in-person.

Since then not only has the commissioner had to effectively manage a pandemic, but also navigate changes to transfer rules and name, image and likeness rulings as well.

The ongoing threat of COVID-19

It was a controversial choice at the time to play a football season in August 2020, yet the SEC stayed the course to play a 10-game conference-only schedule.

Now heading into the 2021-2022 season, the SEC, along with the rest of college football, will return to a full 12-game slate with non-conference games. Sankey emphasized the vaccine as a key instrument in helping collegiate sports return to normal.

“COVID-19 vaccines are widely available. They’ve proven to be effective,” Sankey said. “With six weeks to go until kickoff, now is the perfect time to seek full vaccination.”

Even though a vaccine is now widely available, the commissioner noted that a perfect world does not exist, and the league must be prepared in the event of a disruption. 

“You’re expected to play as scheduled,” Sankey said about the possibility of games being postponed or canceled. “That means your team needs to be healthy to compete, and if not, that game won’t be rescheduled.”

Transfer portal changes

The NCAA made a one-time transfer rule official back in April. The Division I Council voted to approve the plan that would allow an undergraduate student-athlete the ability to transfer to another school without having to sit out a season.

This has been beneficial to schools like Georgia which have used the transfer portal to manage holes in its roster by landing players like Arik Gilbert and Tykee Smith. While Sankey agreed with the rule, he noted that these decisions have unintended consequences.

“This year’s transfer portal had over 1,600 FBS scholarship recipients enter,” Sankey said. “There are still 1,100 in that portal.”

Sankey also emphasized the need to differentiate legitimate transfers from those who tamper with college rosters, turning collegiate sports into a sort of free agency.

“We also have to understand how to support an environment that provides more flexibility,” Sankey said, “while holding to account those who tamper and want to turn college rosters into personal recruiting grounds.”

Name, image and likeness

One of the biggest transformational decisions came on July 1 as student-athletes were able to begin profiting off their name, image and likeness for the first time.

Commissioner Sankey called the NCAA’s rule change a “necessary reality” but did not hesitate to add there was a need for federal regulation on these rulings.

“Because state laws are either inconsistent or nonexistent, the NCAA rules can no longer solve key issues,” Sankey said. “We need a federal solution.”

Sankey has remained adamant that congressional action is needed but understands that it’s difficult to depend on congress to pass legislation on the matter. He also mentioned the need for an oversight committee to ensure that student-athletes aren’t being taken advantage of.

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