Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner, is on the verge of becoming the most powerful man in college sports.
Based on multiple reports, he’s one of the ringleaders behind an SEC expansion effort that will add Oklahoma and Texas to what was already the nation’s most competitive conference.
A few days ago, it appeared that Texas A&M and other programs were set to block such an SEC expansion with OU and Texas but that possibility has subsided with more recent news. Today, for instance, Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said “We’re ready” when commenting on the addition of new SEC members.
It appears an announcement that Oklahoma and Texas will leave the Big 12 is imminent.
Assuming they eventually land in the SEC, then Sankey’s conference will be the beneficiary of an additional tens of millions of dollars flowing into its coffers.
Perhaps then it can afford its own full-time referees.
Currently, the SEC only employs part-time referees, guys who ref on weekends but work regular weekday jobs ranging from teacher to salesman, insurance agent and small business owner as this Sports Illustrated feature details.
The league is paying a price for the lack of training time that these part-timers undergo. In 2019, for instance, the SEC lost seven of its 74 officials to retirement or poor performance. Then, in 2020, SEC referees made a mockery of the profession with one of the worst calls of the year.
Auburn Football Gets a Gift
In early October, 2020, Arkansas received a loss for a road game at Auburn they should have won.
In the game’s final minute, with Auburn down by 1, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix fumbled a snap on a designed spike.
After scooping up the ball, Nix then turned backward before spiking it. Some Arkansas players pursued the ball and one recovered it.
The play was initially ruled an intentional grounding penalty but upon late review it was obvious (as you can see at the 2:00 mark below) that the attempted spike was actually a recovered fumble that would have sealed the game for Arkansas.
Instead, the intentional grounding penalty stood and Auburn kicked in the winning field goal to take the game 30-28.
Greg Sankey knows the SEC messed up by not overturning the grounding penalty call and not awarding Arkansas the ball instead.
He admitted as much during the recent SEC Media Days.
Greg Sankey’s Admission around Arkansas-Auburn Football
In an interview with the Buzz 103.7 FM, Sankey said that early last fall he received a nice thank-you banner signed by every Arkansas student-athlete of the 2020-21 school year:
He was already ready to Tweet it out, but “then we had the Arkansas-Auburn football game, where it went horribly wrong at the end.”
“You get 80% of it right, you’re still wrong,” he said.
“There are people back home, they don’t get it. They don’t understand. You know, we had an official that read four of the five keys right, and the fifth key he missed, which was body position, and replay can’t correct that in that situation.”
“And we hate it. I mean, I was upset the moment I figured out what happened.”
Yeah, no joke. Lots of Arkansas fans were upset too.
They still are.
So Sankey never did Tweet the photo out last fall.
“I was going to say to Hunter and to every student athlete that made the year possible at the University of Arkansas, how much that banner meant to me in the moment, but if I had done that, it would have then one of those like Twitter storms.”
If Sankey is looking to avoid future Twitter storms, he needs to professionalize the SEC referees sooner than later. With the likely news of Oklahoma and Texas moving to the SEC, the conference is about to become as powerful as one of the NFL conferences.
At that point, letting weekend warriors call games for between $800 to $3,000, with minimal review during the week, isn’t going to cut it. Whether full time or part time, SEC referees need to be paid to put in more time during weekdays to perfect their craft.
Otherwise, more ridiculous outcomes like the 2020 Arkansas-Auburn football game are bound to keep happening with troubling frequency.
Listen to the full interview with Greg Sankey here:
SEC Network Disrespects Arkansas Football?
Arkansas fans are known to pick up perceived disrespect from major media outlets and run with them to the ends of the earth.
But it’s not always Arkansas football fans standing up for the Razorbacks.
Recently, for instance, the hosts of one of the most popular SEC football podcasts did just that when pointing out how SEC Network treated coach Sam Pittman and his Arkansas football program.
Here’s how Michael Bratton, co-host of That SEC Football podcast saw it:
“Just about every time Sam Pittman or one of these players got done talking, the [broadcasters] said, ‘I really like this team. But God, look at the schedule. How can they get any better?’ And I’m racking my brain here trying to say, ‘Well, what in the hell happened last year?’ I mean, they literally came out and said, “This is the toughest schedule in college football history.” 10 game, SEC schedule.”
“They got Georgia and Florida and all these juggernauts out of the east, in addition to playing in the west. And hell, they won three games and should’ve won four. I mean, they got robbed out of the Auburn one.”
“So what in the hell are we doing when Arkansas leads the SEC in seniors this year? The line of scrimmage is going to be much improved. And going into year two, the Sam Pittman era, we’re bringing back damn near everybody on the defensive side of the ball.”
“And on offense, we’ve got some star players and a quarterback that I know he’s largely inexperienced, but he’s got talent. And when he has played, he has shined.”
Bratton added: “The reality is until these games go play on the field, we don’t know how good, how tough these teams are.”
“You can pretend that the schedule is filled with juggernauts. But hell, we thought LSU was a juggernaut last year. They went five and five.”
The Arkansas football part starts at 25:00 here:
SEC Expansion as a Boon for Arkansas Football?
As long as Arkansas is in the SEC West, which seems to set some kind of record for “hardest division in college football history” every year, it’s going to have one of the very hardest schedules in the country.
That’s especially true when you’re a cellar dweller and every divisional opponent is ranked higher.
Assuming SEC expansion occurs, the addition of Oklahoma and Texas on the surface makes the Arkansas’ task of winning an SEC championship all the more difficult.
But it’s possible that Greg Sankey getting Oklahoma and Texas coming to the SEC could help Arkansas if it forces a realignment where the 16 SEC teams are divided into four pods of four teams each.
In this scenario, every season each team plays its pod rivals but then rotates through the other 12 SEC teams.
If Arkansas could avoid being in a pod with Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M, this could be great news.
In fact, any pod made up of three of the following teams would make for an annually easier schedule than what Arkansas has experienced lately: Missouri, Texas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
For the latest on SEC expansion, see this:
And read this: