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SEC's proposed future still murky

HOOVER, Ala. -- SEC commissioner Mike Slive's proposed future for college football is still unclear. That's just the way he planned it.

"To coin a metaphor, I tried to paint a quality impressionist painting for people to begin to discuss each and every one of these [proposals] and debate the merits of them," he told ESPN. "If I wanted to get into all the details, I would have taken a photograph. These are the questions that need to be in a room with the experts. The goal is to try to make this national agenda dialogue to make some changes that I think we need to be making."

If Slive's goal was simply to create discussion, he did it. Most of it was not complimentary.

Few coaches at SEC Media Days supported his proposal to implement a high school satisfactory progress rate and raise the minimum GPA of prospective athletes from 2.0 to 2.5.

Alabama coach Nick Saban was one of the more vocal.

"I don't fully understand the purpose of some of these things, and some of these things we've never discussed," Saban said. "I mean, I don't know why we need to change all the stuff. There's certainly some issues and problems out there. But there are a lot of good things that happen every day in every program in college football. ... I'm sort of proud of our profession and I'm proud of what we do to help young people have a better chance to be successful in life."

Several high school and college coaches voiced concerns that the changes Slive suggested when he opened SEC Media Days on Wednesday might actually hurt less fortunate student-athletes. Slive expected as much and offered a pre-emptive strike for that argument when he proposed bringing back partial qualifiers that could enroll but couldn't compete in games during their first year if they failed to reach the proposed standards but reached current qualifications.

That might have a limited effect. Most coaches would prefer their signees to be eligible as freshmen. Still, Slive stood by his plan.

"It never hurts to create higher standards for kids to achieve and that's just part of the ongoing academic reform package," he said.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt might disagree. In his 14th season in the SEC, Nutt wasn't real keen on Slive's proposals, especially since Nutt primarily recruits in Mississippi, which annually ranks as one of the worst states in education.

"I know this, we're graduating a lot of our guys," Nutt said. "We're actually graduating better, percentage-wise, than our student body, and I think a lot of our colleges are."

Nutt said he thinks it's up to coaches, teachers and administrators to help a student-athlete once he gets to college, even if he's not a strong student coming in.

"I've had guys come in as a freshman that pass six hours or seven hours," he said. "They're the first ones in their family to ever go to school. It takes them a semester to get adjusted, to make that transition."

Moreover, Nutt seemed frustrated by the mere notion that the NCAA and SEC would continue to add rules to govern academics.

"No one kept up with me when I went to school in the '70s, and we still managed to get a degree," he said. "It just concerns me that there are so many rules we keep putting on our guys."

One coach that openly advocated raising academic standards was Vanderbilt's James Franklin. That may seem self-serving for a school with such a rich academic tradition. However, the first-year coach said he wasn't sure if Slive's proposal would help or hurt the Commodores.

"It's important to understand both ends of spectrum," Franklin said. "We already have very, very high standards at Vanderbilt and always will. You could make the argument by raising those standards that it could help level the playing field a little bit. But what it's also going to do is it's going to make those better students more attractive to all of these institutions as well."

Slive has some history on his side. Since instituting a satisfactory progress rate in college, student-athletes have been held accountable for the pursuit of their degrees.

"Why not take that concept and apply it at the high school level?" Slive said. "So kids that our freshmen get an appreciation of taking core courses, satisfactorily passing them and accumulating them on a regular, ongoing basis so that when they get to be juniors they don't all of a sudden find out that if they want to play in the SEC they have to take a whole bunch of courses to get initially eligible."

That's a lofty goal for two reasons: The NCAA would have to educate countless high school coaches, counselors and administrators on a much more complicated eligibility system. Also, many prospects could be punished for shortcomings as high school freshmen, even if they had three strong academic years afterward.

"I don't expect everybody to agree with everything," Slive said. "That's not what it's designed to do. I don't have answers for all of that intentionally."

And intentionally get people talking. Goal accomplished.

Mississippi men

Despite a growing rivalry, and perhaps a feud, between Nutt and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, the two coaches agreed on something this week. Both said they were disappointed by the SEC's decision to limit a signing class to 25 signees.

Mullen said he'd like the ability to place prospects in junior college, adding that a promised eventual offer to a four-year institution such as Mississippi State may motivate a prospective athlete to become eligible for a Division I school. That may be especially true in Mississippi, which has a strong junior college system. Yet Mullen said he had no strong objections to the rule that was instituted this offseason.

"We have not had an oversigning problem," Mullen said. "I don't plan on having an oversigning problem anytime in the future."

Nutt, of course, opposes the rule. He once signed 33 prospects in a class.

"Sometimes I get the name of oversigning," he said. "I'm kind of connected to that. That big number only happened one time, and I knew right where everyone was going. My athletic director has never gotten a mad letter from a mom [upset that her son didn't have a scholarship]."

Nutt said the challenges with recruiting were what made oversigning necessary.

"Simply, you don't know who's going to qualify," he said. "You may wake up on signing day and that 18-year-old may say, 'I'm thinking about going somewhere else,' even though he's given you a commitment. There are such things as soft verbals."

During his press conference, Nutt was asked what he thought about Mississippi State's billboards that claimed the Bulldogs owned the state, an obvious swipe at Ole Miss and a reminder of State's recent success. The usually calm Nutt reacted with his own verbal barb.

"You checked recruiting this past season, right?" Nutt said, referring to his 2011 class. "It didn't affect us. We had the best recruiting in the state of Mississippi."

Not for the masses

Slive conceded that opening up text messaging has its pitfalls, since some student-athletes raised concerns that constant texting was a nuisance when it was previously allowed. Slive said such communication will be monitored.

"I think you've got to look at that but to have an absolute prohibition on the language of the people you're trying to talk to is silly," he said. "Now we don't want you to be able to hire a company that can send out these mass text messages, but those are the issues that you sit in a room and manage."

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for over a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.