Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher’s fiery press conference on Thursday morning refuting Nick Saban’s suggestion that the Aggies “bought every player on their team” was still creating shockwaves hours after it happened. Late Thursday afternoon, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey publicly reprimanded the two coaches for their violation of SEC bylaws related to “Ethical Conduct for derogatory comments and public criticism” of another institution’s athletics program and staff.
“The membership of the Southeastern Conference has established expectations for conduct and sportsmanship that were not met last night nor today,” Sankey said. “A hallmark of the SEC is intense competition within an environment of collaboration. Public criticism of any kind does not resolve issues and creates a distraction from seeking solutions for the issues facing college athletics today. There is tremendous frustration concerning the absence of consistent rules from state to state related to name, image and likeness. We need to work together to find solutions and that will be our focus at the upcoming SEC Spring Meetings.”
Sankey’s statement came mere hours after Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork joined the fracas by telling Sports Illustrated that Saban’s remarks violated SEC rules.
“There are sportsmanship bylaws in the SEC,” Bjork said. “We believe coach Saban violated those bylaws. Everyone knows NIL is here to stay. We’ve embraced it. We have all the tools and technology. We are educating our athletes and boosters. There is all kinds of awareness here. The part that is frustrating is to say NIL is the only reason kids are choosing our program.”
Bjork said he has already had discussions with Sankey over the matter, but Fisher doesn’t think a public reprimand will do all that much.
“They [the SEC] will reprimand, say something. Move on, I guess,” he said.
This isn’t the first time that the commissioner of the SEC has had to step in while high-profile coaches sparred through the media. Former commissioner Mike Slive famously used more than a decade ago when he sat down all 12 coaches in the conference for a stern lecture at SEC spring meetings after Lane Kiffin (then at Tennessee) and Urban Meyer (then of defending national champion Florida) got into a war of words about recruiting practices. That came less than a year after former Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer was issued a subpoena at SEC Media Days to be questioned for his role in the NCAA’s investigation into Alabama.
Though a squabble between two of the league’s high-profile coaches may be an inconvenience for Sankey as he tries to navigate the league through a transformational time in college athletics, it certainly raises interest in the league. At a point on the calendar when college football is typically still months away from national relevance, Saban and Fisher are putting the SEC in the headlines.