No football fireworks in Destin, but SEC coaches worry about the future of the sport Mizzou sports news

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Much to the disappointment of Paul Finebaum’s ratings, no public fireworks were lit when all 14 Southeastern Conference soccer coaches gathered in Destin, Fla. this week for the league’s spring meetings. That doesn’t mean they agreed on everything or came home with no concerns about the future of the league – and the sport as a whole.

Two weeks ago, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher engaged in an unusually bombastic exchange that began with Saban’s allegations that A&M paid for its high-level recruiting class under the guise of name, image and likeness contracts. In response, Fisher lashed out at his former boss, destroying Saban’s tactics and integrity. In Destin, none of the coaches necessarily called for a truce, but they took the high road and disrupted the public bickering.

At the heart of their spitting, however, is a problem that remains unsolved. Are unregulated NIL deals further shifting the power balance between the haves and have-nots of sport? Or in the case of the SEC, the land of the $200 million sports budget, the rich and haves?

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Around the SEC and beyond, third-party NIL collectives are hoarding cash to compensate athletes — Mizzou’s premier collective, Advancing Missouri Athletes LLC, plans to go public this month — but one thing the coaches in Destin agreed was the need for more transparency, said Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz. There are plenty of rumors, some certainly unfounded, about seven-figure endorsement deals across the SEC that set off the nasty verbal smacks that ignited the dispute between Saban and Fisher.

“I think we can all agree that we would prefer if there was a limit to third party involvement and players making decisions based on boosters and promises of compensation,” Drinkwitz said Thursday. “NIL’s original intention, which we all agreed on, is that players should be able to use their name and likeness for financial gain. But without guard rails on it, I think it probably rose faster than any of us expected. And now trying to wrap our arms around it is a bit challenging.”

“I think one of the things we’re all trying to figure out is: What’s public and what’s not public?” he added. “What’s real? What’s not real when it comes to NIL? I think we’re all still trying to figure that out. The word transparency has been used a lot (in Destin).”

So where does Mizzou stand in NIL’s collective arms race? As far as Drinkwitz can tell, that’s impossible to know.

“It’s like you’re chasing the ghost,” he said. “You don’t really know what everyone else is doing.”

Thanks to the Missouri legislature, he has an advantage over most of his peers in the SEC. Under the state’s amended NIL law, starting August 28, Drinkwitz and other Mizzou associates can play a more active role in NIL activities, provided Gov. Mike Parson signs the law. At the moment, Drinkwitz and Mizzou’s attorneys are still figuring out how the new law changes its role in NIL deals.

“There were some smart guard rails,” he said. “I know I can’t be a third party, which means I can’t connect players to NIL deals. I think I can be involved in conversations that might encourage our fans to embrace NIL opportunities and corporate leaders. That was really the most important thing, that I have a little more freedom to discuss with executives.”

As for the SEC’s hottest debate, Drinkwitz confirmed the coaches left Destin without agreeing on a timeline model once Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC by 2025. Should the SEC Go to Nine Conference Games or Stick to Eight? The reported options on the table are a 1-7 model with one permanent rivalry game per season and seven rotating opponents; or the 3-6 format, with three fixed enemies and six rotating enemies.

Drinkwitz briefly said which plan he prefers, but indicated he prefers to save more rivalry games by playing more games. In other words, the 3-6 plan.

“I understand maybe a little bit more being with Mizzou now and not having an ongoing rivalry with a long-standing team, whether it’s Kansas or Illinois, and the disruptions that are causing the fanbase and … now trying to start a rivalry with Arkansas and.” like that’s a little bit harder and more challenging,” he said. “So I think for our league, as we do away with the divisions and move to a rotating conference schedule, the continuity of the rivalries will be important to the passion of the Southeastern Conference. So that would be my stance. … You can read between the lines where that means I would support.”

“But I think we have to be careful not to play consistent games in our conference that mean so much to our fan bases.”

All four of Drinkwitz’s quarterback candidates are on campus going through the offseason workouts: returnees Brady Cook and Tyler Macon, walk-on transfer Jack Abraham and freshman Sam Horn. Drinkwitz is confident Horn will stay with Mizzou after next month’s MLB draft — Horn was forecast as high as an early third-round prospect — but Mizzou added 24-year-old Abraham for insurance should Horn decide to play professional baseball . Plus, Drinkwitz said he’d like an experienced QB to tackle the early part of the schedule.

“In our first six games, we’ve got three on the road at Kansas State, Auburn, and Florida,” he said. “And the best teacher is experience. So in those situations, having an experienced quarterback was important and something we were looking for.”

Half of the SEC football coaches hired ahead of the 2020 season have already received new contracts. Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin was the first last December. Now it’s Arkansas resident Sam Pittman who has agreed to a new five-year deal that will increase his base salary from $4 million to $5 million. After a 9-4 season, Pittman will get a sixth year on his contract if he posts a seven-win season through 2026. In the 2020 SEC class, Kiffin has the best two-year record at 15-8, followed by Pittman (12-11), Drinkwitz (11-12) and Mississippi State’s Mike Leach (11-13). … The Mizzou softball program is seeking a new hitting coach for its second straight offseason. Michaela Transue resigned postseason after the team had a tough finish on the plate in NCAA regional play when the Tigers hit just .135 in their last three games. … Former Mizzou baseball assistant Kerrick Jackson has been named the University of Memphis’ new head coach. Don’t be surprised if he brings another ex-Tiger to his staff. Stay tuned. … Former Mizzou Hoops coach Quin Snyder could make a change. ESPN reported that the 55-year-old could leave the Utah Jazz after eight years as head coach, even with a contract extension on the table. If Snyder decides to sit out the 2022-23 NBA season, don’t be surprised if he’s San Antonio’s pick to succeed Gregg Popovich once the Hall of Famer retires — if the 73-year-old ever goes into retirement. … Here’s a shout out to longtime Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Jerry Tipton, who in June will be hanging up his notebook and retiring after 40 years of reporting on the University of Kentucky’s basketball program. Nobody knows more about SEC hoops than Tipton – and his diligence on the beat earned him a classy tribute from the guy he’s covered the most. “Jerry Tipton has been synonymous with Kentucky basketball for 40 years and that should be recognized,” British coach John Calipari told the Herald leader. “He was never afraid to ask difficult questions, even though I might not have liked it! But his dedication to the Lexington community and unwavering work ethic have led to a career in the Hall of Fame. I wish him all the best in his retirement. “

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