Play football in Little Rock, SEC commissioner says

By: Tim Cooper
Published: Friday, December 15, 2017
Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference's annual media gathering, Monday, July 10, 2017, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference's annual media gathering, Monday, July 10, 2017, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Greg Sankey says the Southeastern Conference is rich in tradition and that one of those traditions should involve the Arkansas Razorbacks playing conference football games in Little Rock.

During a question-and-answer session Thursday at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Statehouse Convention Center, Sankey, the SEC commissioner said he was pleased to see that the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is scheduled to play Ole Miss in Little Rock in 2018.

"We do have traditions around this league," Sankey said. "We have an eagle that will fly into a game at Auburn. We allow cowbells under certain dynamics that I know can be irritating at Starkville (Miss.). You hear "Rocky Top" at Tennessee. ... [Playing in] Little Rock is a piece of that ... so let's recognize that tradition."

The Razorbacks' game against Ole Miss on Oct. 13 will mark the first time that Arkansas has played a SEC game in the capital city since a 45-32 loss to Georgia on Oct. 18, 2014

"You can't just move a game on the conference schedule without the participation of the opponent," Sankey said. "You can't move a [SEC] game to New York City. You can't move a game to a foreign country. Ole Miss was willing to play in Little Rock next year and that's one threshold we can handle."

Sankey, the SEC commissioner since June, 1, 2015, touched on a variety of subjects in his 30-minute session. The 51-year-old native of Auburn, N.Y., has been with the conference for the last 13 years. He joined the SEC staff in 2002 as associate commissioner and was elevated to executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer for the league office in 2012.

Prior to joining the SEC staff, Sankey was the commissioner of the Southland Conference for nearly seven years. He joined the Southland Conference staff in 1992 where he served as both assistant and associate commissioner before he was named commissioner in 1996 at the age of 31.

On Thursday, Sankey also discussed the success of the SEC Network, coaches contract buyouts and the prospects of the men's conference basketball teams.

The SEC Network was launched in August of 2014 and Sankey said it can now be found "on every major cable distributor in the country," but that fans should be able to enjoy attending games.

"The game experience comes first," Sankey said. "We send staff out to games to ask the fans to give feedback and research what's important to them. We thought it would be getting Wi-Fi at the games, but it turns out it's bathrooms, concession prices and getting in and out of the stadium."

Sankey said he was concerned about the high price that some schools are paying to buy out coaches contracts, but that in the highly-competitive market that SEC schools have that it can only be expected.

"Institutions, their boards of trustees, their presidential leadership and their athletic directors who make decisions that are right for that particular setting have demonstrated that what has happened in the Southeastern Conference is sustainable," Sankey said. "While some of the coaching salaries have increased there has been some turnover that has led to some decrease for others. That doesn't always grab the headlines."

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Sports on 12/15/2017

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