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Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, boldly declared that change is on the horizon. This year, three words captured SEC Media Days: Scholar, Champion and Leader. Sankey wants the conference to continue emphasizing education and recognize the players that have been productive in the community.

He said the goal for the SEC is to create a better college experience for student-athletes, as well as strengthen numbers where graduation is concerned.

Steve Shaw, coordinator of officials for the SEC, approached the podium Tuesday to discuss safety precautions and quality officiating. Controversial calls sometimes can determine a winner and loser in a contest. One improvement that was addressed happened to be the addition of an eighth official. Shaw said having an eighth official is an innovation.

“As all you guys know, we had been experimenting with eight officials,” Shaw said.

“We had one crew last year that worked with eight. But the rule book now allows a conference to use eight officials in a game. We’re going to get better preventive officiating, but we need that better look.”

Eight major changes will happen this season, along with the officials. All onside kicks will now be reviewable and the play clock will reset under 25 seconds. If a player has illegal equipment, he must leave the game. Shaw is big on having medical observers on hand to aid players.

He said the officials are trained to help recognize concussion and concussion-related symptoms, but the medical observer will actually sit in the replay booth.

“They’ll have equipment where they have a monitor,” Shaw said. “They’ll have simple rewind capability. They’ll have communication to both benches. And they’re going to be observing for this head or neck trauma.”

Shaw said the medical observers will be able to contact replay officials, in order to get players out of the game when injured. It’s an experiment, but one that Shaw is willing to take.

Education is vital. Health is important. But, when one discussed SEC Media Days, 90 percent of the event is actual football. Head coaches Dan Mullen (Miss. State), Bret Bielema (Arkansas) and Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss) all had fun bragging on their shoe game.

Mullen and Bielema were in a Nike vs. Adidas war, while Freeze was modest about his apparel. Three college football fans made a splash at the Wynfrey Hotel.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke Wednesday, and downstairs was an individual that look exactly like legendary coach Paul Bryant. Two guys were in the lobby on the same day, wearing Ohio State shirts and Auburn shorts. The cuisine was exceptional this year.

Choices ranged from fried chicken, ribs and macaroni ‘n’ cheese to collard green, pork tenderloins and potatoes. NFL Draft grades, satellite camps and domestic violence were three issues Saban tackled.

Outsiders and some sports writers felt that Saban was making excuses in Alabama’s 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. He wants the NFL Draft pushed back so that his players can focus on school and Crimson Tide football.

As for domestic violence, Saban said he doesn’t condone it, however, he is all for giving players a second chance to better themselves.

Arkansas, Tennessee and South Carolina all finished in the same boat last season at 7-6.

Arkansas and Tennessee both have recruited well, and are poised for a huge season in 2015, but will this be the last year for head coach Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and in football?

Kentucky and Vanderbilt are on different sides of a coin. Head coach Derrick Mason wants to keep hope alive for a competitive program, while Mark Stoops has Kentucky on the brink of being special in the SEC. The Commodores must learn how to compete before it starts to win.

Supply and demand is a staple of SEC Media Days. Some questions get answered, and others are left to interpretation. The final media poll confirmed how hard it was to chose an conference winner. Auburn was voted to win the SEC, while Alabama was chosen to win the SEC West. Ignorance is bliss, however, too much can cause a problem.

Both Alabama and Auburn are in the SEC West. A hiccup on behalf of the media, but aside from that, coaches and players both addressed needs that were vital for their respected programs.


Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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