SEC commish-select Greg Sankey talks playoff, freshman eligibility and more

IRVING, Texas -- SEC commissioner-select Greg Sankey agreed with the majority of FBS commissioners that four teams is currently the right number for the College Football Playoff.

Sankey wasn’t a part of the initial playoff discussions that evaluated numerous models up to 16 teams, but as commissioner of the Southland Conference for nearly seven years he has experienced a 16-team playoff.

“Generally more is seen as better, and I’m not sure that’s always the case,” he said. “There’s a great toll that’s taken through multiple rounds of playoffs, taken on the participants, the season continues, the travel. You’ve got competition occurring during final exams. That’s not something we have at the bowl subdivision level. We protect the final exam windows on all of the SEC’s campuses from being playoff competition time. There’s a toll on the coaches. That’s a recruiting time, it would shrink that.”

In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN.com, Sankey said he is a proponent of keeping college football a one-semester sport, and agreed that college basketball is a cautionary tale for how the postseason can devalue the regular season.

“What we have works and fits and protects conference championship games,” he said. “We have a great event in Atlanta. If you see it, experience it, it’s really a cultural event for our region, it’s important for our conference. Many times people have talked about the regular season and want to theorize on impacts on the regular season, but when we see more focus on the end of the year, it generally detracts from what happens during the rest of the competitive year.”

Sankey has mainly kept his plans for the SEC quiet out of respect for outgoing commissioner Mike Slive, but he did address some national topics he intends to address after Slive retires on July 31, 2015. Sankey said he would like to address the issue of freshman eligibility by helping high school students prepare for life on college campuses.

“I’m not one to reduce it only to a year of readiness,” he said on Wednesday before the College Football Playoff spring meetings. “From my view, we extend back into high school. How can we extend positive leadership for helping student athletes prepare to succeed at the collegiate level, whether that’s in their mind or not.”

He also said he hopes to increase interaction with student-athletes by seeking their input, providing them with more information and engaging them in governance issues at the conference level. Sankey said he also wonders if the APR is working as it should, and if transfer rules “reflect our educational values, or is it simply a transition for playing time that occurs?”

Sankey and Slive are both in Texas representing the SEC this week at the playoff spring meetings. In addition to overseeing the wealthiest and most powerful conference in college sports, Sankey is also now a member of the playoff’s management committee, which is comprised of the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. This week’s meetings, which include a briefing from selection committee chair and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, are like a crash course for the management committee’s newest member.

He said he went to the Capital One Orange Bowl last year and flew to the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but watched the national title game at home for the first time in nine years.

“My reaction was all positive,” he said. “Obviously we want to have a team win, so that was a significant negative, but I thought the presentation of the games, the attention that was focused on the competition, and those involved in the competition, the storylines that played out – Ohio State’s third-string quarterback leading his team, Marcus Mariota, the focus through the year on selection – I thought it protected the season well and you could argue magnified the interest in the regular season and then at the end of the year provided a pinnacle moment for the sport, which was exciting to see.”