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‘Legalized cheating’: Lane Kiffin is the voice of the SEC

I’ve heard people say that Nick Saban should be the commissioner of college football. Maybe so, but without a doubt the best spokesman for this sport amid all of its current drama is Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin.

In the flimflam world of college football, it’s not the slick and polished words of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey that make the most sense these days, but the rough-cut gems of a guy some people might know as Joey Freshwater. Get your popcorn ready because Kiffin had things to say at SEC Media Days.

SEC Media Days began on Monday at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Everything is changing for this sport and all at once. There are things to talk about, and the ESPN television contracts are forcing everyone to sit through four days of it. It was Sankey, Kiffin, LSU’s Brian Kelly and Eliah Drinkwitz of Missouri on Monday. Alabama coach Nick Saban addresses reporters on Tuesday morning followed by the latest coaches for Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and South Carolina.

Sankey is one of the most powerful people in college football, which means that when he talks in public people tune him out because he drones on about nothing. Kiffin, on the other hand, is one of the more candid speakers in sports.

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What does Kiffin think about USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten? Great question. At one point in his life, Kiffin said coaching USC was his dream job. He even left Tennessee like some kind of deadbeat to do it. Then USC left Kiffin on the tarmac a few years later. Awkward.

Weirdly enough, that bizarre moment in the history of college football led to something even crazier. A few sliding doors later and Ed Orgeron won a national championship at LSU.

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Now Brian Kelly, the coach with the most wins in the history of Notre Dame, is at LSU. Stranger and stranger it gets every year. Kelly’s Notre Dame teams were 2-1 against Kiffin when he was at USC. It’s the circle of life.

Despite the bad breakup, Kiffin still apparently has feelings for his old L.A. temptress. She doesn’t need to be running off to the Midwest no matter how good the money is.

“Not that my opinion matters on it, but I don’t like that,” Kiffin said. “I think there’s so much tradition. When you go to places, you’ve been to USC, all these different places, you see how passionate fans are about certain things; what matters; rivalries. For those to be dismantled for money is kind of a shame.”

College football has been about the money for a long time, so let’s just start there. Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC back in 1990 so the league could have a conference championship game for television dollars. I’ve been in love with the SEC championship’s Dr. Pepper halftime challenge ever since. For the SEC, the SEC championship is kinda where this modern age of madness began. Over 30 years later, people now fear the sport is ruining itself on account of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I think that’s scary for a lot of universities,” said Kelly, LSU’s new coach. “It’s musical charis and there are not enough chairs for everybody and that’s the current state of college football.”

Kelly didn’t really impress me on Monday, which probably means he’ll be a great coach at LSU. I asked him if he left Notre Dame for LSU because Alabama kept destroying the Irish and Kelly denied it. We all know the truth, though.

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I don’t blame Kelly for leaving Notre Dame for LSU, but more than anything that really sums up the state of college football going into the 2022 season. Notre Dame has more power in college football than any other school. Can’t win there, though. Notre Dame is still a school that plays football. In the SEC, it’s starting to feel like a league of football teams that also print degrees.

Sankey said on Monday that he wants all the state governments in the SEC’s footprint to get together and write legislation that helps the league compete against the rest of the country for football recruits. It was a ridiculous thing to say but no one even blinked.

Someone asked Sankey what he thought about the SEC and the Big Ten forming super leagues.

“We are a super league,” Sankey said. “This is a super league.”

Oy.

So, does that mean when Sankey adds Clemson, Virginia, North Carolina and FSU that the SEC will be a Super Duper League?

Here’s an idea. If the SEC is so super, then why not pay the players a salary and create a precedent that actually helps bring some parity to this sport that prevents it from flying off into outer space. In reality, the SEC isn’t just in the poaching business. The SEC started.

Let’s cut to it and sum up Sankey’s words at the dais to begin the first SEC Media Days of this New World Order for college football. There is the SEC and the Big Ten and then everyone else. The sport at the moment is an unregulated competition of traitors, horse thieves and thirsty pride barons, but the guys down south are the richest of all.

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So, take that Big Ten.

And thank you very much, Big 12, for Oklahoma and Texas.

Those weren’t Sankey’s exact words on Monday at Atlanta’s College Football Hall of Fame, of course. I’m only paraphrasing the SEC commissioner, who also enjoyed pointing to the scoreboard during his annual “state of the SEC” address to reporters.

“If you look at the BCS CFP era, you add in Tennessee in 1998, we’ve had six different football programs earn national championships, which communicates the depth of our conference competitively,” Sankey said. “I’ll let you make the comparisons between us and our colleagues as it relates to national championship success in football.”

What makes the SEC the best, though? Sankey’s not the one to answer that with a straight face. Here’s what he said about NIL collectives to kickoff this transformation academic year for collegiate athletics.

“Our football coaches were unanimous during their spring meeting discussion of NIL that booster activity must be removed fully from recruiting,” Sankey said.

Now here’s what Kiffin said when I asked him what it takes to succeed in this new world of recruiting?

“You have really good boosters,” Kiffin said. “That’s how you do well at it. I’ll say what other people don’t say, as you know.

“It’s like a payroll in baseball. What teams win over a long period of time? Teams that have high payrolls and can play players a lot. We’re in a situation not any different than that.”

Kiffin went on to call it legalized cheating. Good luck getting the government to fix that.

Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A season of hope and the making of Nick Saban’s ‘ultimate team’”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.



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