Back to Destin: A South Carolina Gamecocks guide to this week’s SEC spring meetings

·4 min read
Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo

The Southeastern Conference’s annual beach trip/summit is back.

For the first time since 2019, the league this week will host its spring meetings in person in Destin, Florida. SEC athletic directors, football coaches, and men’s and women’s basketball coaches will gather to discuss conference-wide matters starting Tuesday.

Here’s a look at what South Carolina fans should know heading into the meetings:

Would schedule restructuring help or hurt the Gamecocks?

We’re almost exactly a year removed from the bombshell Houston Chronicle report that Oklahoma and Texas had inquired about leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC.

When that move actually happens remains to be seen, but scheduling quirks are almost certain to arise this week in Destin due to the Sooners’ and Longhorns’ impending additions.

The NCAA announced eased restrictions in regard to conference championship game participants on May 12 that opens the door for divisions to be scrapped entirely. The Pac-12 and Mountain West, for example, have already announced they eliminate divisions.

Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reported last week that the league is slotted to propose an eight-game conference format where teams play one permanent opponent and rotate the seven other games; and a nine-game conference schedule that would include three permanent opponents and six rotating games.

South Carolina, at this moment in time, sits on the easier side of college football’s deepest conference with Georgia the largest fish and the rest of the SEC East fighting for positioning. It’s not clear who USC’s permanent games would be in the proposed formats — Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida all make some sense. That said, a restructure would likely lead to more games against the LSUs, Alabamas and Auburns of the world compared with a permanent game with Vanderbilt every season. (That’s not to mention likely drawing at least one of Oklahoma or Texas most years.)

There’s still a lot of moving pieces to be sorted out here, but losing the division structure feels like, at least on paper, it would make things more difficult for the Gamecocks.

Is NIL regulation coming in any capacity?

There’s always been a disparity in how schools at the top of the SEC and the rest of the league spend on football, but the emergence of NIL is seemingly exacerbating that gap.

According to Sportico’s database on college athletics spending, South Carolina spent the sixth-most money on football among SEC schools in 2020-21 not including Vanderbilt, which is a private school and not subject to disclose such data under open records requests.

NIL has seen programs like Texas A&M, Tennessee and Alabama take flack for their varying collectives — third-party organizations that have allegedly pooled money from boosters to, in part, lure recruits for their commitments with the promise of future NIL deals.

South Carolina hasn’t been afraid to spend money on football. Last year’s sixth-place operating budget is proof of that. However, competing with deep-pocketed boosters at Texas A&M, LSU, Alabama and others is probably not a war USC is going to win.

The understanding within college athletics circles is that the NCAA won’t mandate anything in regard to NIL to avoid unwanted anti-trust issues and other possible legal battles.

The SEC won’t offer any kind of mandate, but don’t be surprised if NIL is the hot-button conversation of the week — particularly after Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher’s recent spat.

What’s next on the agenda at South Carolina?

South Carolina’s contingent in Destin this week will include athletic director Ray Tanner, football coach Shane Beamer and basketball coaches Dawn Staley and Lamont Paris.

Tanner has already made a decision that Mark Kingston will be back as baseball coach next season.

Beamer is riding his much ballyhooed offseason into this trip to the Sunshine State. Staley, too, is enjoying plenty of hype after winning her second national championship. As for Paris, he’ll have a chance to get more familiar with the men he’ll square off against in his first season at South Carolina.

Spring meetings function as part-vacation and part-business trip for those coaches, administrators and SEC officials involved. That said, don’t be surprised if a newsy item or two come out regarding things more specific to Columbia.