Greg Sankey [600x400]
Greg Sankey [600x400] (Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

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DESTIN, Fla. -- SEC commissioner Greg Sankey laid out in general terms on Monday evening what congressional help for college sports could look like, saying they constitute "a national system that deserves national standards."

In his opening remarks at the SEC's annual meetings here, Sankey addressed what college sports could look like in the wake of an agreement by the Power 5 conferences and the NCAA to settle three antitrust cases.

As the terms of the settlement came together in recent weeks, college sports officials cautioned it should not be viewed as a magic bullet to the issues -- both legal and otherwise -- in college sports but rather as just the beginning for forging a new era where schools share revenue with athletes.

"I think Congress has still an opportunity to use the structure of this settlement to enact legislation to strengthen the future of college sports," Sankey said.

Sankey said he already has been to Washington, D.C., at least five times this year. He added that in entering his 10th year as the SEC commissioner, one significant change is the number of members of Congress in his phone. He described the effort evolving from a "curiosity" to "a little bit of interest" and that the education of what's needed would be a "continuing repetition."

"I would welcome action between now and the election," Sankey said. "Most people with whom I converse say that's unlikely, and so your educational process will continue post-election, and it will depend on who's in leadership of each party within the House and Senate, where the majorities lie and who occupies the White House. Those realities guide conversations.

"So, as much as it's been unpredictable, I think it will still be unpredictable."

 

Any congressional action would likely include components of nationalizing rules and avoiding the current patchwork of state laws. Some, but not all, of that ambiguity is expected to be mitigated by the settlement. But Sankey pointed out that employment remains a vexing issue and that, traditionally, a group needs to have employee status to bargain collectively.

"The breadth of the settlement is intended to give us a path forward, provide a level of clarity about the future that doesn't embed employment automatically," he said.

Sankey said no student has come up to him and said that he or she wants "to be [taxed] like a lawyer."

"There are those who advocate for that reality," he added. "That takes me back to a fundamental statement, which is there's no better time to be a student-athlete than right now in the history of college sports. No better time. And again, they're not calling me saying, 'I want to be an employee.'"

NCAA president Charlie Baker, the former governor of Massachusetts, has been in Washington regularly in attempt to help gather momentum for a bill. There's been nearly a dozen hearings on college sports in recent years and more than a half-dozen bills drafted but little tangible traction.

"Obviously, we're in an election year," Sankey said. "Congress is a challenging place to accomplish a task, and I say that respectfully; there's a lot on the plates of our House and Senate members."

Sankey also dove into a number of other issues that will loom over the SEC meetings, including how the conference will approach the revenue distribution from the settlement while complying with Title IX. Sankey pointed out that the SEC has won four national championships this year -- all in women's sports. He said the league has to "wrestle with this new piece."

"Our trends have been to provide some equity," he said. "This is a very different world. I expect we'll elicit opinions, perspectives, and we've got time to learn to learn those perspectives -- and then we're going to have to work through what that means from a decision-making standpoint."

The NCAA settlement also has provoked speculation about capping the size of a team's roster as part of the new business model, a possibility that has caused consternation among some football coaches because an 85-man limit would likely eliminate the walk-on positions. But Sankey said he told the coaches individually, "'Hey, slow down, guys."'

"I know other conferences have discussed it," he said. "Coaches have texted our coaches. They get fired up, and we said just wait. We're going to have a conversation. That's where it is: a concept. Understand that football captures the attention, but we have 21 championship sports, all of which need to have a level of conversation about that roster piece."

Sankey also said there's going to "have to be some change" as far as how the NCAA enforces its rules -- and how the schools are told to follow them. After the settlement terms are final, Sankey said he expects the league will look at state laws because they're all written differently.

"There's some options," he said. "There's some openness to what that might look like. I'm not going to narrow that."

In addition to the weighty topics surrounding the NCAA settlement, Sankey addressed a wide range of issues the league also will be discussing this week, including player availability reporting. It's a project some staff members have been working on since last summer, but Sankey said no decisions are expected this week.

"We don't want to just rush into something," he said. "It's not injury reporting. It's a very different circumstance given some of the privacy issues we have. Yet when you start to see the numbers of dollars being bet on legalized sports gambling around college sports -- not just football, but men's and women's basketball, volleyball, baseball -- all of those catch your attention.

"We have to be thoughtful about how information is managed."

ESPN's Dan Murphy contributed to this report.