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What the SEC/CBS deal really means

By Tony Barnhart | Friday, August 15, 2008, 09:55 AM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nobody asked me, but this morning I believe:

1. The CBS deal seals Mike Slive’s legacy as SEC commissioner: Slive took over in 2002 and has received high marks for helping the league clean up its image. He set the goal of having no teams on NCAA probation in five years. People were skeptical, and rightfully so. After six years only one SEC sport (Arkansas track) is still on probation. Given the competition in this league and the contact sport that is recruiting, that’s a very notable achievement.

But understand commissioners are also judged on their ability to put their conferences on sound financial footing not just now, but long after they are gone.

With Thursday’s unprecedented 15-year deal with CBS, that runs through the 2023 season, and the deals that will follow from ESPN and others, this conference proved once and for all that it is “the gold standard of college athletics” as CBS VP Mike Aresco put it.

I spoke to Slive again last night. You could hear him smiling through the phone. “We’ve got some work left to do but this is big for our conference,” he said. “But this is very important step for the Southeastern Conference. We are all very happy.”

You need to know about two other people who were heavily involved in getting this deal done. Mark Womack is Slive’s top assistant and should be the SEC commissioner when Slive retires. Chuck Gerber is a former ESPN executive who came on board this year as a consultant to help the SEC put the deal together. That’s how important it was.

Roy Kramer put the SEC on this kind of financial footing when he was commissioner from 1990-2001. Kramer was the driving force behind the BCS and the explosion of college football on TV. When Kramer took over the SEC in 1990, the league was sharing $16 million in revenue each year. Last spring the 12 SEC members shared $127 million.

Kramer brought the SEC into the modern age and now Slive has taken the baton and advanced it for another generation.

2. There will not be an SEC TV network: When I talked to Slive Thursday night he insisted that all options “are still on the table” when it comes to the possibility of the league forming its own TV network like the Big Ten.

I have no inside information but I don’t believe it will happen for one reason: The SEC doesn’t need it now.

The league obviously got the deal it wanted from CBS, giving them an exclusive national broadcast for the next 15 years. ESPN loves putting the SEC in prime time and will step up to the plate. I’m hearing ESPN would like to own the rest of the SEC’s TV rights and then be able to sell what they don’t need back to folks like Raycom, who will do the 12:30 p.m. games. To do that, ESPN would have to pay a premium. Keep your eye on that one.

The SEC has studied the distribution nightmares experienced by the Big Ten, where only 33 percent of the league’s TV sets were covered when it went to market. The SEC can’t do that.

I was joking recently when I told a Big Ten person that the distribution problems that his league had would not be tolerated in the SEC. It’s a totally different football culture.

I said: “If Illinois-Michigan is not on free TV, then your office gets a lot of nasty phone calls. If Alabama-Tennessee is not on down here, somebody’s house is going to get burned down.”

No really, I was kidding. Kind of.

Slive told me he wants to get the rest of the TV deals done in the next 20 days.

3. Forbes got it right: This week Alabama coach Nick Saban became the first college football coach to ever appear on the cover of Forbes Magazine. The headline on the cover read: “Sports’ Most Powerful Coach.” The magazine picked Saban because of his total control over every aspect of the football program at Alabama.

I agree. You can argue over who is the BEST coach in the SEC. But based on my experience there is no coach I know whose fingerprints are on every moving part of a football program the way Saban’s are at Alabama. And while that may not necessarily be a good thing at other places, at this point in Alabama’s history it is absolutely essential.

For too long there were way too many voices speaking for Alabama football. Since the death of Bear Bryant in 1983 nobody, except Gene Stallings, seemed to have complete control over the program. And as a result Alabama could not sustain the legacy left by Bryant.

There is no doubt about who is in charge at Alabama. That’s why the Crimson Tide will be good again sooner rather than later.

4. There will never be another “Hoss” Brock: Ninety-nine percent of you have never heard of Jim “Hoss” Brock, the long-time executive director of the Cotton Bowl. But I wish you had known him.

Hoss was a colorful throwback to the days when bowl deals were struck in smoke-filled rooms and a bowl executive director wasn’t a businessman, he was promoter and usually a PR genius. That was Hoss. The story of how he got Doug Flutie and Boston College for the 1985 Cotton Bowl was the stuff of legend. All of his competitors were trying to land Flutie for New Year’s Day and he found a way to get the deal done when nobody was looking. It was a crazier time and so unlike the corporate structure of the bowl business today. But it sure was fun.

Hoss Brock died yesterday at the age of 74. Those of us who have been in this business for any length of time grieve his loss and that of Dave Cawood, the long time director of the NCAA Men’s Final Four. We lost Dave in July.

The college athletics landscape that you enjoy today was built by guys like Hoss Brock and Dave Cawood. We will miss them.

5. Ben Mauk’s lawsuit does not have a chance: The former Wake Forest quarterback, who played last season at Cincinnati, is suing the NCAA to get a sixth year of eligibility. Mauk redshirted in 2003 as a freshman at Wake Forest. He played in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 he suffered a severe shoulder injury in the opening game and missed the entire season. He transferred to Cincinnati and played the 2007 season. That’s five years, which is the standard amount of time a player has to complete his four years of eligibility. The NCAA will give a sixth year if injuries force a player to miss two full seasons.

Mauk has had three hearings with the NCAA, which says there is not enough documentation to prove that Mauk missed his freshman season due to injury. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe has written several letters to support Mauk’s case but the NCAA still says no.

The NCAA really digs in its heels on these eligibility cases. Despite an injunction against the NCAA, Cincinnati won’t use Mauk until the issue is resolved.

I personally believe Mauk deserves another year. But I don’t think he’ll get it.

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