Thank goodness for the SEC. That league is always looking out for the best interest of its players and protecting the integrity of the sport. At least whenever it feels someone is threatening its fertile recruiting territory.
The SEC's latest campaign to preserve the sanctity of college football is to ask the NCAA to prohibit teams from holding spring practice during spring break. The move, first reported by CBSSports.com, comes shortly after Michigan announced plans to hold part of its spring practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, during the Wolverines' spring break.
The SEC's major problem with Michigan's plan? According to commissioner Greg Sankey, it's the time demands placed on the student-athlete.
“Our primary reaction [is] that, in the face of the time-demand conversations, we've got one program taking what has been 'free time' away,” Sankey told CBSSports.com. “Let's draw a line and say, ‘That's not appropriate.'"
I will pause here and allow you a moment for a good belly laugh.
Now, is there an objection to be made with forcing players to practice during one of their few weeks off during the school year? Absolutely. Time demands on players have become a big issue, and the Big Ten itself has pushed for changes to give players more time away from their sport.
But let's be honest here. If Jim Harbaugh was taking his team to, say, New Jersey for a week of practice during spring break, would the SEC even notice? It just so happens that Harbaugh is coming to Florida, the home of one of the richest talent bases in the country and a spot squarely in the middle of the SEC's territory.
This reaction is similar to when Harbaugh and Penn State's James Franklin began bringing satellite camps to the South. All of a sudden, the SEC -- and the ACC -- were offended and asked the NCAA for rules changes.
Hey, it's OK to try and protect your backyard. Michigan probably wouldn't like to see an Alabama camp in Detroit. But the way the SEC tries to drape these issues as concerns for players' welfare is absolutely hilarious, as well as transparent and even hypocritical, given the win-at-all costs mentality often found in that league.
Truth is, if you asked the Michigan players whether they'd rather have the week off or spend time in Florida with their teammates, they'd probably pick the latter. They could practice for a couple hours, and then go to the beach, and they wouldn't have to pay for travel out of their own pockets. You know who else has to spend time on their sports during spring break? Men's basketball players, who go through conference and NCAA tournaments during that window. Football players also often have to practice for bowls during Christmas break, but you don't hear complaints about that.
There's no NCAA or Big Ten rule against holding spring practice in another state or during spring break, though the SEC does have its own rule about practicing far away from campus during the spring. Harbaugh has once again ingeniously found a loophole in the rules that gets Michigan attention, and the SEC's response only draws more eyeballs to his idea. I imagine he's somewhere chuckling at this right now.
There are valid reasons why the NCAA should consider instituting a rule prohibiting practice during spring break. Those reasons aren't why the SEC is really upset, however. The SEC would earn more respect simply by saying, "We don't want Michigan or other teams practicing in our backyards." It's a lot easier to campaign for integrity and player welfare when you're starting from a position of honesty.