Football Takes Part in Day 1 of SEC's 'Kickoff 2008'
LSU Sports Interactive
BATON ROUGE -- Despite a late start, LSU coach Les Miles along with seniors Tyson Jackson and Brett Helms met with members of media on Wednesday as the Tigers took their turn at the Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.
Comments from coach Miles are now available. Check back for quotes from Jackson and Helms.
Commissioner Mike Slive's opening comments are also available, including his thoughts on an SEC Channel, changes in the modern media environment and the BCS's rejection of a "plus-one" system.
LSU was paired with Vanderbilt in the second session of the day on Wednesday. Florida and Mississippi State opened "Kickoff 2008" with the media from 1:10 to 3:10 p.m. followed by LSU and Vanderbilt from 3:10 to 5:10 p.m.
Over 800 members of the media have registered for this year’s event.
LSU reports to camp on Sunday, Aug. 3 with practice scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 4. LSU begins defense of its national title on Aug. 30 when the Tigers host Appalachian State at 4 p.m. in Tiger Stadium.
COACH LES MILES
THE MODERATOR: Coach, welcome. If you could start us off with some opening statements with the upcoming season, then we'll take questions.
COACH MILES: Well, first I want to kind of, in order, review. I'm very proud of the '07 team. Certainly that was last year. It was a tremendous achievement. I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about that. I want to go on. I figure if I I figure if I can kind of start that way.
The one thing that probably hasn't been said about the '07 team is that minus the five guys that went directly to the NFL, there was a hundred percent graduation, and I'm pretty proud of that. 11 guys graduated before they ever played that game. Every one of them will have their degree by this fall except for those men that pursued the NFL quickly.
The '08 is where we're at. We're not defending. We're not dealing with rankings. This is a brand new year. If we're defending, come see the trophy, it's in our trophy case. We're not defending it; it's there. We got a brand new team.
The good news about this team is they've been through an experience that will allow them to continue to develop, to understand the work that needs to take place. We really invest in what we've determined to be our process. That process helps us identify the team. It's our work ethic and habit. It's a belief in the things that we do will make a difference. To me, it's every time frame: it's the spring, it's the summer. I think we paid a tremendous price this summer. I think we have leadership. And it's two a days and it's each game.
I think this team has very significant leadership. I think they have great character. I look forward to what will be the '08 team. Got a great attitude. There's been a hundred percent participation in the summer. I can tell you that I like our opportunities for '08. But it will be earned. It will start with App State and continue from that point forward.
The personnel, offensively, I think maybe the most asked questions will be about our quarterbacks. I think Jarrett Lee, Andrew Hatch, both guys had good springs. Both guys are learning the offense. They had an entire summer of study where the receiving core, gathered them, ran the passing that we run, really helped identify to our quarterbacks where they're gonna be. I think they've made good progress through the summer.
I'm not going to go by Jordan Jefferson, a true freshman, a guy who will may have to play. We have three quarterbacks on campus that have grant and aids.
The offensive line I think will be veteran. It has to be a big, strong advantage for us. I want it to be one of the more physical lines in the country. Tight end Richard Dickson will be a big play maker. Our runningbacks will be again runningback by committee. I see it being very much like last year. I think we're a talented group. I think Charles Scott, Keiland Williams, Richard Murphy, Stevan Ridley, one of those guys will step out of the pack, be somebody we rely on very much like Jacob Hester, will be my guess.
Defensively we promote within. Two guys that had those positions that make the adjustments that transition formations, Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto, our linebackers and secondary coach, will share those duties. They seem to get along extremely well. They're great friends. There's not a lot of ego. And they were in every strategical meeting for the entire year a year ago.
So what we do is we keep the defense intact. Maybe call it a little different. Some of the names may change. But it's designed and strategy and implementation will not change significantly. I think it benefits what would be Tyson Jackson and Darry Beckwith, our veterans. I think our defense will prosper that way best.
I think if you look at our personnel on the defensive side, the defensive line will be one of the strongest in the country. Charles Alexander, who did not play a year ago, coming back off injury, appears to be really in great shape. Ricky Jean-Francois, who didn't play much a year ago, two bookends at defensive end. Tyson Jackson with me today and Kirston Pittman. I think our defensive front will be as strong as there is in college football. I'll be excited to watch them play. We lose two linebackers. We lose some experience. But I think the youth that we bring forward there, Perry Riley and Kelvin Sheppard, along with Darry Beckwith, as a leader, will give us a great backing core. We lose a couple corners. I like the veterans that return. I think those guys, Chris Hawkins, Jai Eugene, will be a guys that come out of the spring as starters. Patrick Johnson, guys coming in, some of these young freshmen corners, Brandon Taylor, Ryan St. Julien.
Veteran at safety. Harry Coleman came in the game after Craig Steltz went down, had a great many game in the national championship game. Great spring. We look forward to Curtis Taylor, Danny McCray, Chad Jones and our secondary.
Special teams, Colt David is back. He was a very steady force in our points and placements. Brady Dalfrey will be the new punter, it appears. Has had a great summer. He will develop as two-a-days come on.
The bad news and the good news is that Trindon Holliday did not make the Olympic team. We would have loved to see him compete for our country. But it means that he's back in the fold in football. He may return punts as well as kicks this year.
With the schedule, we start first with App State. We will play. We understand that they played a very capable Michigan team off their feet, a Michigan team that had success against Florida in the final, and we recognize that they're a very talented team. We will prepare in earnest.
I feel like the road games, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, will be very challenging. But I look forward to this team. I want this team to embrace going on the road and playing well. If I had to look back on the last three years, maybe the game that we played, you know, not well was the Florida game. I just want to go back to Florida and say, Okay, let's play well.
I think this team has veteran leadership enough to play well on the road. Of course, the home schedule with Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, will be again, when you play in this conference, you are prepared to play against the very best. Certainly this will be a tremendously competitive year.
I will entertain questions at this time.
Q. How has winning the national championship changed the respect level you've received on the recruiting trail and LSU fans?
COACH MILES: I think we have always had a very strong recruiting base. I think people understand it's a great community, it's a great state. We partner with a tremendous school. We've recruited extremely well, in my opinion, right on through.
I think the national championship obviously opens some doors through the media. Being on television, the last game, and for that matter last year the first game, you know, gave us some national awareness that probably we didn't have.
It's not a foreseeable change. I think we've always had a great following.
For me and the fans, I think the ones that like me like me and the ones that didn't. I've enjoyed a great relationship with our supporters. Really haven't noticed a difference.
Q. The state of Louisiana has 12 colleges that play football. If Alabama played those 12 as a schedule in the season, what do you think their record would be?
COACH MILES: I want you to know something. I have great respect for the University of Alabama, the history they have presented to college football, the competition that they put on every time they take the field. I promise you that any fun and entertainment that I have with supporters is very respectful.
I love college football, the competition and the young men that play it.
Q. Could you talk about the spread offense and the impact it's had on you and what you do, also on your defense and how you defend it.
COACH MILES: I think it's very much option responsibility, being gap sound on the defense. To me it's a tremendous weapon on the offensive side. I think it's challenging. It makes the numbers a little bit more even for the offense. It's just much harder to gang an area.
That combined with the no huddle and the opportunity to make calls after you align really is a great weapon. I think it's something that we will evolve in and take part in. But I can tell you this, we will always look to be a physical team. We will put those physical players that we have on the field. If we have the right fullback, we might be in two back a little bit more. If we have the right tight end, we might be two tights and a back. If we have the right mix, you know, there's not a personnel group that we would take out.
But, again, to go back to your question, the spread is a tremendous weapon. It's an accounting that your defense has to go through that makes you play responsible football, not necessarily emotional football. That's an advantage to the offense.
Q. Can you talk about just getting rid of Perrilloux when you did, and how that has given Gary Crowton enough time to figure out what he can do to figure out the quarterbacks you have.
COACH MILES: First of all, any time you get rid of a student athlete, it's not something that you enjoy. You don't look necessarily at the real positives. I certainly wish him the very best and hope that he takes this lesson and goes on.
I can tell you this: we liked our quarterbacks and we felt like we had the entire spring with the guys that currently will be our quarterbacks, minus our freshman that's incoming. I think that there are advantages to the fact that the entire spring was played by the young men that will be playing in the fall.
I think Coach Cro again does a very good job in playing what would be his offensive strength. We'll enjoy the guys that we have.
Q. SEC arguably had its greatest season last year. You won the national championship. Florida had the Heisman Trophy winner. Seven Bowl victories. Is it realistic to think the conference can match that or do as well this season? What do you see?
COACH MILES: I can only tell you that I'm as respectful for this conference and see when we play, from the top to the bottom, well coached, extremely talented football teams. Really, for that matter, athletics in general in this conference is very exceptional.
I can't imagine that there's a more competitive league out there. I think that great teams in other conferences can be and will certainly contend for national spots. But I think year after year, if you go through our schedule and if you go through those people that play in this conference, they will be representative of every national honor. I think that last year certainly being a great year in this conference, you know, can be repeated, in my opinion, through time.
Q. You lose Glenn Dorsey but you still seem to have quite a bit of talent left on the defensive line. Talk about how difficult it is to replace somebody of Dorsey's caliber and just the caliber of guys you have back on the defensive line.
COACH MILES: Well, he was not only a very talented man, but he was really one of the very strongest defensive leaders that we had. He was a guy that, you know, bumped and bruised or not, he was coming to play. And he insisted that the defense play alongside him. He was a great leader.
I don't know that that piece of Glenn Dorsey will be replaced. I think he was exceptional that way. But I think our front is awfully talented and I think that as a group they may well play as well statistically as that defensive front did a year ago. With Ricky Jean Francois and Alexander, so....
Q. As you look back on last year, what were some of the important keys or factors to being able to handle all the hype, the expectations, considerable distractions that came along in the year? What did you or people on your staff do to deal with that?
COACH MILES: I think we were fortunate to have really a great group of leaders and real strong character. It's interesting. We went through a period of time and ended up No. 1 after a very competitive game with Florida, then went on the road and found a very hot Kentucky team, and really had to test our mettle to find out exactly what we were.
I don't think it was the position of No. 1. I certainly think it was our play at Kentucky, the play of our opponent, that created that position. We had not clinched the west. We had the west yet to win. It was a position where we had to come back and play Auburn and Alabama and play well. Our team showed that character and that resolve. I don't think there was any refocusing needed. To then go on a run, we achieved the No. 1 spot, found a very hot Arkansas team in the regular season final. Finished second in that game. With losing your quarterback, you knew at that point Glenn Dorsey would play a piece of that game, not necessarily the entire game. You realized that the most important game that we have yet to play was the SEC conference championship. For them to rally and play for victory, when they had arrived and could well have said, We're not going to play our starting quarterback, we don't have Glenn Dorsey, we're not necessarily ready to play as well as we're capable they didn't say that. They came to play. It was a tremendous game.
That to me set up the final. We understood that we had to overcome in games, certainly within the season, within the schedule, disappointments. This team, again, showed character, resolve, leadership, all those intangibles that make champions.
Q. SEC coaches are paid pretty handsomely these days. I wonder if you have an appreciation for the early stages of your coaching career, how humble those beginnings were compared to now.
COACH MILES: Again, we're paid in a system where it's reflective of capitalism and democracy that allows people to ascend. I recognize that I'm highly paid. I'm embarrassed by it. If I had my father alive, said say, You're not worth it. I'd say he's right.
But how wonderful in this country that those things happen. And for our players going into the NFL Draft, changing the income level of their family, I'm for a system of economies that allow people to ascend. I think that's what this is reflective of. I think college football has changed in that position my coach who I think was the greatest coach ever, Bo Schembechler would have made, if his worth had been paid him, would have been, you know, the most in my opinion, the most highly paid coach in the country.
I think it's a wonderful piece of our society. I think it's a great piece of our country. When you compete at the highest level in this country, you're compensated fairly.
Q. From what you saw in the spring and what you saw of your quarterback candidates, what could each of them do to win the job? It seems like a remarkable story that a kid could go from being a JV quarterback at Harvard to contending for a starting job with the national champions? What kind of development or transformation has Andrew had?
COACH MILES: The three guys that we have on our campus that will vie for the opportunity to play at quarterback all have some similarities, certainly some differing strengths. I think that, for instance, all three of them are going to have to deal with consistency. The most consistent performer, the guy that makes the play, the guy that is least likely to turn it over, least likely to make poor decisions, that will be, in my opinion, the first that will allow them to get to the field. I think the ability to make those plays that your team needs to make to win games, when in third down situations, when in big play opportunities when the throw is there, the call, the adjustments made, to me, those are things that you're really waiting to emerge.
But I think there's skill. I think there's development at throwing it, development of running, I think we have that. I think we'll be good enough at skill. They just need to get comfortable and get ready to play. One of those three will play a little more than the others at the start, so...
Q. Coach, could you look at Brett Helms, his career up to this point, and what you would expect from him this season?
COACH MILES: Brett really was a starting guard for us and really a tremendous player and performer. Had a major injury. By natural body type we moved him to center. He kind of resisted it for about a spring. He really kind of was saying, Boy, you know, I can go back to center, I can go back to guard, I'd be better at guard. After spring, where he got to make the calls, really align some of the schemes, enjoyed the mentality of our center spot, he just really blossomed. He was always a leader. I mean, he was always that guy that, you know, after he got his feet on the ground, wanted to know, you know, team policy, wanted to know, wanted to help, and really saw the need that the team has to do it together. In fact, he wanted to facilitate that.
No, he's had a tremendous development at our place and is a guy that, in my opinion, will really enjoy this year.
Q. Do you like the current overtime rule? If not, what would you change about it?
COACH MILES: You know what, I haven't given a lot of thought to it. I don't know that it's reflective of an entire game. I don't know that it's not exactly the right process.
I can tell you this: the advantages to the overtime is that a winner is determined, okay? The disadvantages are that you lose specific situations. You know, you're out on the field, first and 10, you really don't get the opportunity to let your defense play certain situations. Offensively you're limited.
But it's fair. To me, you know, fair may be not representative of the entire game, is what it is. And I don't know that it's any better. If given some thought, you could tweak it such that it might back it up some. You might, you know, allow for there's no special teams other than a field goal. You know, so, I mean, it removes some of the strength of your team or some of the weakness of your team.
I don't have the answer. I can tell you that the good news is that there is an overtime that makes the determination.
Q. Coming off a championship, what were you looking for from your team in the off season in terms of effort and dedication in the classroom, weight room, that sort of thing? What have you heard from in the reports you get? You're not allowed to supervise them directly. How pleased are you with what they've done in the off season?
COACH MILES: To this point I visit with our weight strength guy, even this morning. To this point he is and we are very excited at how the team has responded to the summer. Any time that you come off of spring, you come off a year after achievement, there's a natural letting loose of steam. There's an issue of, you know, achievement, entitlement, all that necessarily take away and distract from hard work.
But I really feel like our team had that adjustment take place and really this summer have paid a tremendous price. I think there's enough newcomers to the group that have really pointed out that the team has to come together. And I think that that urgency is being seen. And I think a hundred percent involvement in what is an off season, you know, in voluntary workout is phenomenal. I like what I see going on. I see our players getting along. I see great chemistry. I would expect, you know, leadership that would be like the last three years that we've been here.
So I really am pleased. This is not just the talk; it's how I see it.
Q. How much thought do you put into which two players you bring here each year to represent the team? What are the criteria that you use to decide who those two guys will be?
COACH MILES: I really give thought most to leadership and how they have represented our team over time, you know, their abilities to lead our team not necessarily communicate to you guys. I suspect that some are imperfect, not only on my team but other teams. But they communicate well to their team. And when they speak, they're listened to. They have true leadership ability. These two guys have that. Tyson Jackson has been a leader, quiet. You know, here's how you lead. First of all, you lead yourself. You get your grades. You put your hand on the line and you play every snap as hard as you can because, you know what, you're really just developing. You're figuring it out. You hope like heck that you can play. You want to work. And your teammates see that you are progressing, and they understand it's based on these habits that you've demonstrated not necessarily your ability to communicate, not necessarily your ability to talk, but your ability to show others how to do it.
I think that these guys have done that. And I think they've done that, you know, in different ways from different positions. And I think that they've done that and will continue to do that in a very strong manner.
Q. Last year in college football, the way it ended, do you think that's an anomaly or are we going to see these upsets, maybe a two loss team playing for the national championship again in the near future?
COACH MILES: I think college football is as exciting a sport, dealing with the style of athlete, the variance from a Saturday to a Saturday as there is in the world. I think last year was a year like many years that will come and be there in the future. With the idea that the scholarship level has kind of maintained a parity, there's not the opportunity for, you know, necessarily the great in state school to take all the players that they want. They move really quality players to, you know, a number of other spots. I think skill levels are very similar. I think that if you're not ready to play, or injured, or if issues take place on your team that you can't handle, that your kids don't understand what overcoming an obstacle means, then you can run into a season that, you know, is not predictable. And that's what you're saying, that college football's not predictable, and I think you're right.
Q. The Southeastern Conference has such a rich tradition and strong fan support, I was wondering, who do you think is LSU's rival in the SEC and why that team?
COACH MILES: I don't really know who our natural rival is. I can only tell you it seems like every team we play is a pretty strong rival. I can tell you that how we look at it is the opportunity to play a team to advantage our team and to, you know, win the west. Win the west and then hopefully play in the conference title.
So I think they're all there. I think it's strength from top to bottom. I think there is a natural rivalry with quality teams. You know, when we line up, you can go down there down the line. We're going to have to play well to win. When you have to play well to win, it's a serious rivalry.
Q. Wanted to get your input on a couple of hot button issues much debated. One is the early signing period idea. Would you be in favor of that? If so, how early? Also, the way the season ended last year, sending you to the championship game, when you and some other coaches essentially had to politic in public it seemed like before the final BCS standings came out, does that make you more in support of a potential plus one or other playoff systems or are you happy with the system as is?
COACH MILES: The playoff system, in my opinion, you know, there's so many factors to go into the playoff system. You're going to have to deal with college calendar, calendar students. You're going to have to deal with a Bowl system. You're going to have to deal with, you know, any number of issues. How many teams do you get in it? Could all of us write down exactly how to do it? Ubetcha. If we left out a Bowl system or if we left out an opportunity for the presidents to be in the room to talk and, you know, then suddenly we're on different calendars, and it's the quarter system as opposed to the semester system, this school, you're playing that game right in their break.
I'm not necessarily in favor of a full blown playoff system. I can tell you that I am in favor of tweaking the system as best you can to allow the best teams in the country the opportunity to be the national champion. If that's a plus one, if this year it appeared to me obviously that it worked out okay (smiling). But I'm not ready to scrap. I'm really ready to add to and tweak and review it again yet again, okay?
The early signing date to me makes great sense. First of all, if you've ever been an assistant coach, you're on the road, and you have to get to your recruits, and you risk your neck on a plane, in the car, through bad weather, because you're responsible to touch base with that young man in that week, if you can limit that in some way by allowing the young man to assign himself, officially sign to the school he knows he wants to go to, I think there's a bunch of reasons why the early signing date's good.
I don't see that there's a need for an early visitation date. I think the opportunity to go and visit is something that happens unofficially throughout the summer. I can't tell you the number of unofficial visits we've had. We've had a slough. Every school in this country has a great number. There are those who are currently committed to us. There are those currently committed to other schools who know that they're going to go to that school.
To me, why not allow them to put it on paper? Why not end a piece of the recruitment, some percentage, at their wish, at their want, and then you can spend much more time on those guys that are still remaining and that you feel need to fill the class.
If you poll the prospects, they want the early signing date. They would like to have the ability to go to basketball practice and the basketball game without having to say, Here comes the coach from all these universities because I'm going to visit all these places, but I'm committed to here, or I want not to see them 'cause they want me to visit and I'm still not gonna visit but they're gonna come in and pitch me.
When I'm going to be locked in, to me there's a financial reducing of the university cost. I mean, to me there's a great number of reasons why an early signing day works. Again, I think the logistics need to be studied. But I think it's one of the easy ones. I think the SEC coaches were in favor of an early signing date and even proposed maybe a Monday before December 1st would be an early signing date, and send it on to what is the national convention to determine if, you know, anybody else would go along with it.
But it just makes sense. I mean, somebody's going to want to go to Penn State, let them sign up and end the recruiting for them. Let those guys that know that they're going to that school, you know, sign. It makes sense, that's all.
Q. A lot of people think your regular season game against Georgia may be the first of two matchups against the Bulldogs this year. Comment about Mark Richt, where he has that program, why it's such a challenge to play the Bulldogs?
COACH MILES: Well, he's done a great job, and they've recruited extremely well. They got better as the season went on. I saw them a couple times as they played crossover opponents. They certainly ran the football better, you know, improved as the year went on.
Certainly will be a very competitive game. I look forward to seeing our teams match up. It will be a great one.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Miles, thank you.
All Quotes courtesy of the Southeastern Conference
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive's Opening Comments:
Let me add my welcome to that of Charles. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2008 SEC Football Media Days. Once again, you are part of the largest group to attend this ever expanding event. There are over 850 of you here and approximately 750 credentialed media. In addition, we've got 25 to 30 radio stations broadcasting live over this three day period.
I think it's safe to say that there's no other media event in college sports anywhere near this one.
Conference Without Probation, Almost
Five years ago I told you that the SEC would not have any institution on probation as of today. We came close. Only the Arkansas track program is on probation as we speak. While I take some solace in the fact we are far better off than we were six years ago, there is disappointment when we were so darn close.
This disappointment, however, is tempered by the substantial progress we have made in this very important area. And this progress is the direct result of the conference's adoption of the task force report in 2004. Many of you were there and I'm certain remember it. And for me the unconditional support of our presidents and chancellors and our athletic directors.
As I have said to many of you in many of our conversations over the past year, the most satisfying accomplishment in my six years as commissioner is that we have tackled the infraction problems head on, while at the same time arguably enjoying the most sustained competitive athletic success in the history of this conference.
And as we look ahead, and of course if we believe that history teaches, we can anticipate one or more of our institutions making a mistake. And that will happen. But what's different is how our institutions handle these matters: with honesty and with integrity. And that's what we do now.
So in life, progress is two steps forward and on occasion one step back. But in six years, ladies and gentlemen, we have made extraordinary progress. I'll talk about that again when we begin to talk with television and the media interest in our future television packages.
Television Contracts End in Summer 2009; SEC Channel?
At the end of this academic year, the conference's television contracts with CBS, ESPN, Raycom Sports and FSN South come to term. With that in mind, over the past two years, the conference has been considering its television and multimedia options which include the possibility of an SEC Channel and the possibility of the more traditional granting of rights.
During this time we've had the advantage of watching the Mountain West Conference's channel known as The Mountain, the Big 10 network and the NFL Network, as they tackle a variety of issues.
We will make a final decision this fall, a full year before the existing contracts expire, giving us a year to implement the new agreements in whichever direction we decide to go.
I thought it might be helpful for you to know what the criteria are as we consider this in making a comparative analysis of the two options.
They include the ability to improve national distribution for all of our sports, the ability to enhance the SEC brand nationally, the opportunity to provide a window for non athletic programming, particularly academic programming, the ability to maximize multimedia distribution in the new digital world. And, finally, the ability to increase revenue distribution to our member institutions in support of their broad based men's and women's athletic programs.
Until the conference makes a final decision, there is not much more I can share with you, other than to say, we have been very gratified with the level of interest in the SEC shown by television and multimedia distributors. And the question is obviously why.
Successful 2007-08 Season
The conference's ability to build and maintain successful relationships with media partners is due to a combination of factors. The factors include the significant public interest in the Southeastern Conference, the passion and the loyalty of our fans, the prestige of the conference's member institutions, most of them flagship institutions and academically prominent, the successful effort to conduct our programs in the boundaries of the NCAA and the SEC that I alluded to earlier, and our sustained competitive success at the highest levels of intercollegiate athletic competition.
The evidence of competitive success in football and beyond is demonstrated by the following. LSU's 2007 national championship is the SEC's third in six years and its fourth in 10 years. We're the first conference to win consecutive BCS titles and the only conference, as you know, to have five head football coaches who have won national championships. We are 11 4 all time in BCS Bowl games and we've won four in the last two years. Our seven Bowl wins last year is the most ever for any conference in NCAA history. LSU and Georgia finished 1 2 in the AP poll, marking the first time the second has accomplished that feat, and the first time for any conference since the Big 8 did it in 1971.
Five of our teams were ranked in the top 15 of the final AP poll and five in the 16 in the coaches poll, the most of any conference. We have an 82% winning percentage in non conference games, and with 47 wins, the most in our history. Our student athletes won 12 individual national awards, and for the first time two SEC football student athletes, Tim Tebow and Darren McFadden, were named the national Player of the Year in the same season.
We had six players drafted in the first round of the NFL, and we had 263 players on the 2007 NFL opening day active roster, the most of any conference.
As has become our custom, we drew 6.6 million people to our games, the most in history. In addition to football, we won three other national championships in gymnastics and tennis by Georgia, and for the second consecutive year Tennessee won the national championship in women's basketball.
We sent 75% of all of our teams in all of our sports to NCAA post season competition. That's incredible. We had 457 student athletes named All Americans. And as of today, 150 former or current SEC student athletes will participate in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Away from the field of competition, I just want to take one minute to talk about two initiatives that we have made substantial progress on that are important to the conference away from the playing field. The first, and some of you may remember when we inaugurated the Southeastern Conference's academic consortium several years ago, the consortium, we dedicated the building of the consortium on the University of Arkansas's campus this year, fully operational with its own building with a full time coordinator. We have realized our goal. I would say for me a dream of tying together the academic strengths of our institutions so that all of our students can benefit from the education, research and resources available, not just where they go to school, but throughout all 12 of our institutions.
The second initiative that we continue to make progress in is the very important area of ethnic diversity. As exemplified by the hiring of Trent Johnson as LSU's head men's basketball coach, and the appointment of Joker Phillips, as Kentucky's head football coach designate. This past spring from Phoenix, the conference hosted the minority football coach always forum, sponsored by the original BCS six conferences. We gave the opportunity for 20 minority football coaches to work for two days with athletic directors in these conferences, the decision makers, and to give them an opportunity to get to be known in a way they otherwise could not.
In addition, Charles attributed a database he does every year of all minority football coaches in IA and IAA to all the conferences in the country and to our institutions.
Changing Media Environment
Over the years the Southeastern Conference has benefited from extensive media coverage for many reasons. Not the least of which is the result of the good work of Charles Bloom and his media relations staff. Our philosophy is that we are here to help you do your jobs as best we can and be as accessible as possible.
We are very aware of and sensitive to the changing media environment, particularly as it impacts the print media, brought about by technological change and the fact that anyone, anyplace, any time can try to be a sportswriter (laughter). I'll let the comment in my mind go by.
We very much appreciate the fact that you are here and that you are here in person and that we have the opportunity and the privilege to work with all of you face to face. We are in uncertain times in the ever changing world of media. I see it every day as I scan newspapers, read the Internet and talk with you. I can only understand how this uncertainty weighs heavily on each of you, both personally and professionally.
The impact of change is felt by us as well. What avenues of communication do we use to provide information to our fans? Who gets credentials? How does the new media impact our rights holders. There's a hundred questions like that that you and I and us will have to face and address in the months and years ahead.
I don't know if I have an answer, but I think it's very important that working together in intercollegiate athletics that we acknowledge it and are sensitive to it from our point of view and from your point of view.
In the midst of this uncertainty, we also know that sometimes media access to student athletes and coaches is limited. This is an issue for many of you. To that end, we have worked closely with Ron Higgins, the president of the football writers, as he works on your behalf to gain more access. And I think parenthetically it's fair to say this is clearly a passion for Ron.
This spring we provided Ron the opportunity to come to Destin and meet with our athletic directors, our coaches and media relations directors to outline his and your concerns about access. The conference office through Charles put together a proposed conference wide media policy for consideration.
Needless to say, it generated debate amongst all groups, particularly one group. And the debate on occasion was heated. The First Amendment in the SEC was alive and well in Destin. But we left Destin willing to consider the policy during our upcoming meetings. This proposal, or some variation of it, was designed to foster dialogue, not just within the SEC but throughout the nation, to serve as a catalyst for not only our people but for all the folks involved in football and college athletics to think about what's going on in this ever changing media world. Whether we adopt this proposal or some variation of this proposal, our goal is to continue to service you in a way that is beneficial to all parties and at the same time does not disrupt the academic and athletic lives of our student athletes.
To this end, the Southeastern Conference will initiate and implement the following measures effective immediately:
One, each conference institution will conduct a pre season media training and seminar for student athletes and coaches. The importance of positive media relationships, understanding that everything you do and write isn't everything we love to see, but that doesn't matter. We want positive media relationships with our coaches, our players and with you, and we will emphasize with our folks that they have the personal responsibility to deal with you folks while being in the public eye and that they represent the team, the institution, the conference, and themselves.
Two, the conference will create an ongoing working group made up of representatives of the media, athletic directors, coaches and media relations directors. It will meet by teleconference with the goal of discussing and resolving issues of concern to the media and to our institutions. Charles will lead this group.
Three, the conference through its media relations directors and this working group will review the issues as they arise and attempt to deal with them on a timely basis. This will be followed by a year end review for the purpose of initiating change in the coming year.
This is a good faith effort on our part to work proactively with you on issues you confront every day and understanding and being concerned about the changes that are going on and affecting your lives.
We want to be able, ladies and gentlemen, to meet you and see you eye to eye as often as we possibly can.
Student Athlete Eligibility
On another subject, there has been confusion about a recent amendment that the conference made to its bylaws with respect to student athlete eligibility, with some reports indicating the conference has relaxed its academic standards. In fact, the opposite is true. I want to take this opportunity to clear up that confusion.
As you may know, and some of this is more than a lot of you want to know, the NCAA revised its bylaws several years ago to eliminate the status known as partial qualifier, leaving only two classes of student athletes: qualifier and non qualifier, which are determined based on a student athlete's high school academic credentials.
This spring, the conference revised its bylaws effective August the 1st of this year to maintain standards more stringent than the NCAA standards governing the enrollment of non qualifiers. In addition to modifying the labels describing a student athlete's initial eligibility status, the NCAA's initial eligibility index was extended to include the full range of possible standardized test scores. A 2.0 high school GPA was established as the minimum for a student athlete to be a qualifier, and the number of required high school core courses was increased, first from 13 to 14, and now to the new requirement of 16.
It is inappropriate to associate this legislative change with any individual student athlete or prospective student athlete. Rather the revision is based on the need to update SEC rules to properly reflect new NCAA standards and to ensure accommodation of individuals challenged by learning disabilities.
These revised bylaws, known to most of us as Proposal 1, make it clear that only a limited number of recruited student athletes who are non qualifiers at the time of enrollment at an SEC institution may become eligible to compete in the SEC and that each of those limited number of student athletes may become eligible only if he or she presents an average high school GPA of at least 2.0 as certified by the NCAA and at least 12 core courses. The institution submits a special report to the conference known as Proposal 9A, and a prospective student athlete who was a non qualifier and who does not meet these standards can enroll as a first year student in the SEC at an institution in our league, but cannot later become eligible for SEC competition.
Another path to eligibility is available for such a student athlete, however. He or she can enroll in junior college and become eligible as a transfer student. For those interested in more, we have prepared a document comparing the old and new provision of SEC Bylaw 14.3, and that's available to you outside on the table after we finish.
BCS and Plus-One
Taking a quick look at the national scene. In January, I was released from the penalty box, otherwise known as the coordinator of the BCS (smiling). Unfortunately, there was not the necessary support for further consideration of the plus one model. A lot of us have talked about this over the years. In my mind, the plus one satisfied the three principles I have always espoused, it protects the regular season, maintains the Bowl system, and retains the academic mission and schedule of our institutions.
Nonetheless, the plus one concept is now in the public domain and will serve as the basis of comparison for you and fans each December when the games are announced.
I want to thank you all for the dialogue. I promised dialogue during my two years. I think we hit. I want to thank all of you for that.
As I said in the press conference following the meeting in Florida, the review and analysis of the plus one is a marathon, not a sprint. One good thing came from it, though. It's good experience for me as the BCS coordinator, as I train to become the chair of the NCAA's Men's Basketball Committee beginning this fall and culminating with the Final Four in Detroit. So that's one positive that came.
In closing, throughout the past year, we celebrated the conference's 75th anniversary by paying tribute to the SEC student athlete experience. We did it through the inspiring messages set forth in our stories of character. These stories paid tribute to some of our former student athletes who benefited from competing in our league and in intercollegiate athletics because they could then apply the lessons they learned competing to their lives long after they were unable to play.
This is and continues to be the conference's most important legacy. During the coming year, five thousand student athletes will compete in the SEC and they will launch the next chapter in the SEC's history. Our commitment to them remains the same: to provide all student athletes with a chance to compete for the national championship in their chosen sport and to provide them with a quality education that leads to graduation.
We hope this opportunity provides them a chance to overcome obstacles many of them have faced in their earlier lives and some of them continue to face by developing in them the kind of character that will lead to a life of satisfaction, contentment and service, the kind of life that all of us in this room aspire to. We are committed to ensure that this legacy lives on.
A final note. I would be very remiss if I did not publicly acknowledge the work of our conference staff under the able leadership of Mark Womack in dealing with the tornado that ripped through the Georgia Dome during our men's basketball tournament. The grace under pressure they displayed was an example of extraordinary teamwork as they worked in cooperation with our athletic directors, coaches, the Georgia Tech and the Georgia dome staffs and our television partners.
Although many fans were unable to attend the game in person, this team of ours made it possible to complete the tournament in a very safe environment. So thanks, guys, for a job well done.
Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of all of us in the SEC, I thank you for being here today. As always, may the muse be with you. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER SLIVE: Thank you.
LSU center Brett Helms
On being from Arkansas but ending up at LSU:
"My mom and dad went to LSU and I went to games in Baton Rouge since I was two years old, so it was already a done deal that I was going to LSU after high school."
On this year's offensive line:
"We're going to be very good. We get four guys back and having (sophomore) Joseph Barksdale back and a better understanding of the playbook makes us much better."
On being overlooked:
"I don't think we are, but we really don't pay attention to that stuff. We're just focused on camp right now. We're not really worried about it."
On losing running back Jacob Hester:
"It will be a big miss; his leadership and hard-nose play makes him like a fullback. We also have three good backs however in Richard Murphy, Charles Scott and Keiland Williams."
On playing in Little Rock against Arkansas in 2008:
"That game is always circled, but it will be fun since I'm from the state. It's definitely something I'm looking forward to. Playing at War Memorial Stadium is neat because I won a state championship in high school as a junior there. Even though it only holds about 50,000 people, it gets very loud."
Toughest guys to block:
"(Former LSU defensive lineman) Glenn Dorsey. Besides him, Peria Jerry from Ole Miss is one of the best. He's so fast and extremely strong."
LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson
On this year's team:
"We have a lot of talent and veterans returning, especially on defense. Middle linebacker Darry Beckwith is a senior but it all starts up front and we're pretty good on both the offensive and defensive lines. Our secondary lacks some game experience but they make great plays at practice, so I have a lot of confidence in them."
On getting back on track after winning the National Championship:
"It's out of our system now. When we got our rings in June, Coach (Les) Miles told us to move on and put it behind us. It's really not hard to move forward if you have a team that is hungry like we are. We know what we have to do."
On losing defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey:
"You can't replace a guy like Glenn Dorsey. There's only one of him. I was fortunate to be around him for four years and I learned a lot from him. We still talk and are good friends and he still teaches me things even from Kansas City (with the Chiefs in the NFL)."
On having Ricky Jean-Francois returning to the defensive line:
"It was very encouraging to see him play the last two games last year after the suspension. He brings a lot to our team and I knew he could do it all along, but it will be a big boost having him to start the season."
On sophomore defensive tackle Al Woods starting this season:
"He's 6'4, about 350 pounds. He's massive. But he moves like a defensive end. He's going to be a big asset for us this year."
On the excitement of playing last year's BCS Championship Game in Louisiana:
"It was so exciting. I grew up about ten minutes from the Louisiana Superdome so it was a huge thrill for me. I couldn't wait for the game. It was very amazing."
On playing Appalachian State in their opener:
"We've heard so much about them I think I'm getting a text message about right now. Seriously, we're definitely not overlooking those guys. We know what happened to Michigan last year."
On his play last season:
"I definitely felt like I played well. I didn't think so during the year because I didn't have the stats I would have liked, but looking back I realized I did enough to help the team win."
On how tough it is to bring down Florida quarterback Tim Tebow:
"Have you seen him? He's huge. He's built like a lineman. He really has the size of a tight end. He's tough."