Saturdays in Athens
George Somerville. Saturday 23rd May 2020
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Here are this weeks headlines….
Just at the time of writing this article the presidents of the SEC schools voted to allow students back on campus on 1 June*. This means that athletic program’s will resume on or around this time, albeit the detail of how this can be achieved safely remains uncertain.
However, we can now almost certainly expect SEC football y’all!
Talking about getting back on campus – just when you thought Coach Saban couldn’t get any scarier, pictures emerged from Tuscaloosa last night which should give Dabo Sweeney nightmares.
Nick Saban appeared in a face mask to provide a public service announcement for students in support of the School’s return to campus program.
where there's a will
While the clamour for fall football increases day by day, the safety of student athletes, coaching staff and fans remains paramount. However, the subject of money is never far away. So it is no surprise that with season ticket and gate revenue uncertain, athletic programs are looking at every way to curb costs.
Football programs in other conferences, noticeably the PAC12, have already looked to reduce staff costs. However the SEC has been slow to follow.
But this week South Carolina announced that Head Coach Will Muschamp will take a 10% pay cut for the upcoming season. Muschamp earned c$4.4m in season 2019/20 so the assumption is that he is putting c$440k back into the program.
While it is difficult to know exactly how athletics will be impacted, the Gamecocks administration believes this could be as much as $40m in the coming year.
As well as Muschamp, both Men and Women’s Head Basketball Coaches are also taking a cut which is expected to save the Athletics Department c.$1.2m in the season.
Kudos to the Coaching Staff at South Carolina.
Kiffin returns to cali
On his somewhat nomadic travels, Lane Kiffin has never been far away from the USC Trojans. In two separate stints Kiffin coached at the Coliseum: from 2001 – 2006 and again as Head Coach from 2010 to 2013.
So, interesting news came this week that the Ole Miss Rebels will play a home and away series with USC in 2025 and 2026. The Rebels are scheduled to travel to Los Angeles in 2025, with the Trojans travelling to Oxford the following year.
Kiffin said of the series announcement:
“USC will always be a special place to my family and me and we were excited to finalise this series. This will showcase two of college football’s greatest game days and we look forward to this meeting down the road”.
While it might be five years down the road, if you are looking to go to a college game I would suggest planning ahead for a game in Oxford, Mississippi. And the Trojans visiting this idyllic southern town will be an epic experience.
And if the experience isn’t enticing enough, in the Rebels’ 125 year existence they have never played the USC Trojans. What are you waiting for?
You can tell that there is something special when the most popular player on your team is the kicker. So it has been no surprise that Rodrigo Blankenship declaring for the NFL and subsequently signing with the Indianapolis Colts, leaves a big void in Athens. So news of the signing of kicker, Jared Zirkel from Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas was always going to be big news.
Zirkel came to the attention of the Georgia coaching staff and most noticeably Head Coach Kirby Smart by winning a kick-off contest at the Kirby Smart football camp in Athens last year.
A 2020 signee, Zirkel is ready to join campus as soon as restrictions are lifted. Which looks now likely to be June 1.
In a statement ahead of his graduation from Tivy, Zirkel said:
“I know there’s definitely an opportunity with Rodrigo being gone. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to earn the kick off job at least. I don’t see any reason why not. That was one of my biggest qualities when I was being recruited was the kick off power. I’m hoping I will have a good chance of at least competing with the other guys for the field goal spot”
With recently added Special Teams Coach Scott Cochran arriving from Alabama, there will be a lot of pressure on special teams this season. And Hot Rod’s shoes are big ones to fill. So no pressure Young Jared.
Commodores Get Their Woman
Vanderbilt has just announced Candice Lee as it’s new Athletic Director. Lee is a Vandy alumni having graduated with three degrees from the university, and was a former captain of the women’s basketball team.
Lee is the SEC’s first female African American AD and had taken the role on an interim basis earlier this year with her full-time appointment announced Thursday.
Vanderbilt has continued to struggle in the SEC both on the football and basketball front, so Lee will have a significant job on her hands to turn the program around.
Lee said of her appointment:
“There are challenges ahead and much uncertainty about what college athletics can and should look like during a pandemic, but I firmly believe that anything is possible if we all work together. My priority, and the university’s priority, continues to be examining everything we can do to support our student-athletes and ensure their safety and well-being. We also continue to prepare for the future—determining and establishing the conditions our student-athletes need to compete and succeed at Vanderbilt and beyond.”
While football head coach Derek Mason remains firmly under pressure – and likely will be one of Lee’s first key decisions to make, it is hopeful that the hiring of the legendary Jerry Stackhouse as the men’s basketball coach can turn that program around.
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.