Saturdays in Athens
Saturday 20th June 2020
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Here are this weeks headlines….
A Day At The Races!
We have got so used to having no sports to watch that there is a pent up demand desperate to watch anything. So it’s an understatement to say that the start of the college football season is eagerly anticipated, even at this point in June.
But what chance there is too much sport come September?
Well that might just be the case in Lexington where the Wildcats season opener against Eastern Michigan was set for Saturday, September 5th.
However in a classic case of waiting for a bus (you wait ages and then three come at the same time), Saturday, September 5th is also the date of the rescheduled Kentucky Derby*.
The Derby, one of, if not the most famous horse race in the world, is normally held in May. However the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus meant that the race was postponed until September.
Now while Georgia are scheduled to play on the Saturday that the rescheduled Masters is now set for – there was no chance that the Wildcats and the Derby was going to happen in the state of Kentucky on the same day.
There is less than eighty miles between Churchill Downs and Kroger Field, but the Derby being the greatest show on turf (in terms of horse racing anyway) was always going to prevail in this scheduling battle. And as a result Kentucky will kick their season off on Thursday September 3rd.
The good thing is that demand will have reached fever pitch by then so I expect the Wildcat fans will be more than happy to get to see their college ball three days early.
Another Fine Mess
It is tough following the Razorbacks. This is not a football program that has had recent sporting success. You have to be a diehard to follow Arkansas. Or be from Arkansas. Or like a good drink.
So the news this week that ex coach Bret Bielema was suing the Razorback Foundation was just another pill in a long line of bitter pills for the Razorback fans to swallow.
Now, let’s be honest; all of this horrible mess is Arkansas’ own doing. Bret Bielema was not a championship coach. Far from it. He left the Razorbacks with a 29-34 record and 11-29 SEC conference. Pretty shocking stuff.
But Arkansas saw fit to give him a contract extension in 2014 (on the back of a losing record I may add) which meant that when he was eventually fired in 2017, his buyout was a jaw-dropping $15.4m.
If you have been following SEC football you may recall this story, where the Razorback Foundation stopped his payout in early 2019 when they accused him of not trying hard enough to find alternative employment. At that time, Bielma had taken up a post with the New England Patriots. His Patriot’s pay was not commensurate with his Arkansas salary, which meant the Razorbacks had to continue to pay the difference. This is an oft used trick by out of work coaches to ensure the continuation of their contract payout while their coaching CV gets enhanced with high profile work.
So last week, Arkansas football’s name was dragged through the press with claims and counter claims about the way in which the whole sorry mess has been handled.
In the absence of a settlement this will go to court but just remember, this is an athletics program which has since let Bielema’s replacement, Chad Morris, also go at a cost of $10m. This is not an Alabama or a LSU. The cost of these continued payouts could be huge and not just in monetary terms.
The moral of the story? Don’t pay average coaches, sky rocket salaries.
Buyer beware. UCLA beware.
It's Not All Bad News
Lets stay in Fayetteville. It’s been a somewhat good week/bad week for the Razorbacks. The good news is that new Head Coach Sam Pittman secured his highest rated commit in this latest round of signings.
Four star running back, AJ Green announced his commitment to Arkansas and is seen as quite a coup for Pittman.
Green, a 5’11”, 194 pound wide receiver out of Tulsa, Oklahoma chose The Hogs over Oklahoma, Michigan, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Green is now the third Oklahoma native to be signed by the Razorbacks and points to Pittman’s ability to recruit out of state.
The Times, They Are A Changin'
Oxford & Starkville, MS.
Mississippi, perhaps more than any other state in America, has played a central role in the country’s ongoing battle over race.
So the debate to have the Mississippi State flag changed is not new and has raged for years.
But with the country on the edge of cultural and historical change, the push for change received a welcome boost this week, albeit from an unexpected source.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey joined the debate this week saying that if the state would not reconsider changing the flag, the SEC would no longer propose Mississippi as a venue for SEC sporting championship events.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi. Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcome to all. In the event there is no change, there will be consideration of precluding Southeastern Conference championship events from being conducted in the State of Mississippi until the state flag is changed.”
The announcement was welcomed by Mississippi State and Ole Miss, the two principle schools in the State. Ole Miss stopped flying the state flag in 2015 and has the statue of James Meredith, its first African American student, on campus.
Of the SEC stance, Mississippi State president, Mark Keenum said:
“”I have great respect for Commissioner Greg Sankey, and I understand why he has taken this position regarding Mississippi’s state flag, Clearly the current national climate is such that this debate may produce unintended consequences for our student athletes here at Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi. There may be similar unintended consequences for academic pursuits at all our state’s public universities and negative economic impacts on the state’s communities as well.”