Things that you normally don’t see during the course of a Southeastern Conference athletic year:
Jackie Sherrill bungee jumping. Supposedly bitter rivals Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer, both with their wives, yakking it up amicably at a pool party.
Shaquille O’Neal concluding an acceptance speech as the league’s Male Athlete of the Year with the line, “I want to thank my teammates for getting me the rock.”
Only at the league’s annual spring business meetings, which convenes Tuesday at the Sandestin (Fla.) Beach Hilton for the 27th consecutive year, can you gain a glimpse of the league’s football coaches, men’s and women’s basketball coaches, athletic directors and presidents in a relaxed, non-competitive state.
Yes, former Mississippi State football coach Sherrill really bungee jumped one year, just down the road from the hotel.
'I saw it on the way to dinner and just decided to do it,'' said Sherrill in his typical deadpan demeanor.
Yes, despite then-Florida football coach Spurrier’s public jabs at former Tennessee football coach Fulmer during football season, they got along famously at meetings. Winners usually respect winners.
Yes, LSU basketball star O’Neal brought down the house at the business meeting’s Thursday night awards banquet with his “getting me the rock” line.
The league’s spring business meeting is the closest thing to a family reunion that the SEC stages. Sure, there are serious discussions, key legislation and important decisions made at this annual get-together.
It’s why the SEC has often been a step ahead of many conferences over the years involving some of the biggest issues in college sports, such as expansion, gender equity, reducing NCAA violations, APR and the like.
Some of the conference’s annual gatherings on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico have been more notable than others, such as these five:
This meeting was unique, because for the first time since the SEC was formed in 1933, the league had two new members – Arkansas and South Carolina – at the meetings. At the time, then-Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles admitted leaving the now-defunct Southwest Conference was tough.
'I had mixed feelings about leaving the SWC,'' said Broyles, who played football in the SEC for Georgia Tech in the late 1940s and was an assistant coach at SEC-member Florida for seven years in the 1950s. ''It was like a divorce. One day, I'd wake up thinking it was time for a change and the next day I'd think we were leaping into the dark and leaving behind a lot of tradition. But our fans were overwhemingly for the change and we simply wanted to join the strongest overall conference in America.
''There is prestige in being in the SEC. We're hoping to start a rivalry with LSU like we had with Texas and we already have a rivalry with Ole Miss since we play them every year in football.''
South Carolina moved into the SEC expansion picture after Florida State spurned strong SEC interest and decided to jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
'Joining the SEC is the best thing that ever happened to South Carolina - we're all still in a state of euphoria,'' then-South Carolina athletic director King Dixon said. ''Joining the SEC means we're joining tradition. All my life I felt the SEC was the toughest football conference in the nation. But I never realized until I did some homework about the league how strong it is in all sports.
''We knew the days of being a football independent were coming to a close, especially when Penn State joined the Big 10. We took off our blinders and looked at several conference options. Now, we're looking forward to developing division rivalries in the SEC with Tennessee and Kentucky.”
By the time, the meetings had concluded, the SEC had voted to make Birmingham the site of the newly created SEC football championship game. Birmingham, which bid $7 million annually, was given a multiyear contract that eventually lasted just two years
The biggest news from this league meeting was there were virtually no controversies.That was a change from the previous decade when expansion rumors sizzled, there were heated discussions whether to let conference members on NCAA probation share in bowl and TV revenue and coaches and athletic directors battled over the length of football and basketball schedules.
In fact, by the ’97 meeting, conference revenues shared by the 12 schools skyrocketed to more than $50 million this year. Men's and women's teams were winning national championships every year, and everyone around the conference gave credit to eighth-year commissioner Roy Kramer, Vanderbilt’s former athletic director.
'I haven't met anybody that doesn't have respect for Roy and the way he manages this league,'' then-Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey said at the time. ''He's a hands-on guy. Almost everything that goes on in that (conference) office goes through Roy. If he doesn't have an immediate answer to your question, he'll call you back with it in an hour.''
Kramer said being accountable and making sure all schools keep involved were keys.
'I think it's tremendously important from a conference office standpoint that all 12 schools feel like they are equally as important, and are treated that way,'' Kramer said. ''It may be in the way we assign officials, the way we schedule TV or the way we distribute money in which everyone gets approximately the same amount. It's not to say schools still have arguments, but we've been able to bridge the gap and have more of a family feeling.''
Then-Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton said at the time that even the schools with smaller budgets like his had just as loud a voice.
'There was a feeling many years in the past that the larger marquee schools made some of the decisions,'' Templeton said. ''The league is now being run like a board of directors. The athletic directors and the SEC office have quarterly meetings. A lot of the nuts and bolts work is done there, and it takes out a lot of the surprises.''
A year after new SEC commissioner Mike Slive declared he wanted no league members on NCAA probation within five years, the SEC presidents unanimously approved a series of principles and recommendations designed to govern and streamline reporting of rules violations.
With three schools on NCAA probation and a fourth under investigation, Slive put together an eight-man strategic task force to tackle the problem.
The new policy stated a coach of one school can no longer call the SEC or NCAA offices and directly turn another school in for alleged rules violations. A coach must tell his athletic director, and the athletic director must decide if there is sufficient information to support the allegation before passing it on to the SEC. The commissioner then will ask the school that has allegedly committed rules violations to respond.
Once the school responds, the commissioner determines whether the case should be closed or sent to the NCAA. If the SEC sends the case to the NCAA, the commissioner then can recommend to a school whether it should retain the school's general counsel or hire an outside firm to help defend against the allegations. The SEC will not be involved in the investigation.
"For the first time in the history of the league we all came together,” Slive said, “we looked each other in the eye, acknowledged the issues that we've had, agreed that we don't want them anymore and adopted a set of recommendations to managing some of these issues with integrity. We need to put all these matters in our rearview mirror, and the responsibility is now on our institutions."
Football coaches, such as then-Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, reacted favorably.
“We don't want to be known as the conference that always has teams on probation and is always committing violations," Nutt said. "This is not a thick book of guidelines. It's a thin book of simple procedures.
"There's hard feelings going on right now between some schools in this league because one coach reported another. That's what you don't want. We're trying to take every precaution to make this a better conference. So everybody has to report (alleged violations) the same way now."
An action-packed meeting with wall-to-wall elements, starting with return of former Florida coach Steve Spurrier, who was in his first several months on the job at South Carolina after two seasons with NFL's Washington Redskins.
"I'm glad to have Stevie Boy back," then-Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. “"I was probably one of the few who hated to see him go to the NFL. He's got a personality, a bit of charisma and he knows how to win. But he's not the best golfer in the league. I beat him every time we play, so he's going to have to finish second there every year."
Spurrier and the rest of the coaches also got an update on the upcoming season’s implementation of instant replay. Football coaches also tried to absorb the news that starting in 2006, the NCAA approved a 12-game regular season schedule.
"I'm shocked that some of these university presidents say it (a 12th game) is too much for football players, yet baseball plays about 72 games, and our basketball team this year had a season that lasted almost seven months because of a preseason Canadian tour," Spurrier said. "And we've got presidents who are worried about playing another football game on an open date? I don't understand that."
Tired of some of the league’s football coaches publicly taking shots at each other, Slive brings the heat on the second day of the meetings. Behind closed doors, he delivers an impassioned speech telling the coaches to zip it.
"It was awesome, he came with it today, he was really good," said Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt. "Mike Slive's got real passion and he cares about our league. His bottom line was simple: We're a team. I don't think you'll hear anything more from the coaches."
Slive said he just wanted to remind everyone in the room filled with athletic directors and football coaches what the SEC should be about.
"I have tremendous passion for this league, I believe in this league," said Slive, who delivered his message from his heart and without notes. "Since 2004, we've won 36 national championships, including four in football, and two each in men's and women's basketball.
"At the same time, we've made tremendous progress on keeping the news about the players and not about matters that take place off the field. In my own way, I reiterated that. I had all 5-9, 170 pounds of me into every word I said."
Slive said he can reprimand and fine coaches who don't adhere to his message, which stems from the 2004 set of principles adopted by league coaches and athletic directors. But he doesn't believe he'll have to fine a coach because athletic directors and school presidents back him fully.
"He made it clear everybody's expectations and the accountability he's going to hold them to," Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said. "It was as honest, direct and clear as I've ever heard him."
Every league spring business meeting usually has a predetermined story, whether it’s Florida President Bernie Machen wanting to discuss the possibility of a college football playoff, or the buzz of expansion that was the hot topic before last year’s confab in Destin.
“You never really do know what pieces of legislation will create a significant amount of discussion,” said Mark Womack, the SEC’s executive associate commissioner who has more tenure than anyone else in the league office, having worked under four commissioners. “And at some meetings, you know you have some fairly volatile issues that will involve some spirited discussion.”
Or as Slive likes to say, “The First Amendment will be alive and well in Destin.”
That’s true. But at the end of the week, the SEC is still one for all and all for one.