The SEC wants to be the NFL.
In recent years, the National Football League has slapped restrictions on press credentials to control what the media can do with the content it gathers. Rules limit how video, photos, archives and more can be used.
The NFL is a for-profit entertainment conglomerate intent on controlling every facet of its lucrative product in the evolving world of multimedia.
Big bucks are at stake.
Big bucks are at stake in the SEC, too. According to the league's most-recent report to the IRS, annual revenue was $161,562,742.
And that's nothing now that the league has struck $3 billion-plus deals with ESPN and CBS.
Last week the conference unveiled its new NFL-like credentials policy. Journalists who want to cover events would have to agree to a ban on video or audio on newspaper Web sites, restrictions on blogging or Twittering during events and an arrangement that turns over to the SEC much of the copyright on photos.
The policy was "cut and pasted" from the major professional leagues, said David Tomlin, lawyer for The Associated Press.
"The SEC and some other big college conferences want to become publishing and broadcasting businesses now," he said. "It is constructed so the leagues can run their own publicity machines, make money and control their message, control their brand. What that means for the fans is less opportunity to see independent, objective exposure. The leagues will cover themselves."
That hit home a few weeks ago when the University of Tennessee Athletics Department hired away our UT football beat reporter, Drew Edwards.
In today's tumultuous free-enterprise media world, the News Sentinel couldn't match the salary and security Edwards could get from the university. He's now writing features for the UT Web site.
We'll hire a new Vols reporter, but the experience Edwards racked up is lost to our readers.
Of course, the SEC isn't the NFL. Its members aren't privately owned entertainment companies. They are institutions of higher learning, mostly owned by the citizens of the southeastern states.
That gives the SEC some nice benefits. Through the decades, the taxpayers have built fabulous athletic facilities.
A die-hard customer base is a guarantee. No brands inspire more loyalty than "Gators," "Bama," "Big Orange" and the like.
Unlike the NFL, too, the SEC's talent toils for minimum wage, or whatever $25,000 worth of room, board and schooling works out to hourly.
Not all the talent works for minimum wage, though. No football coach in the SEC makes less than $1 million a year, and the top ones pocket three to four times that amount. Basketball coaches are in that range, too.
Administrators don't do too badly either.
Commissioner Mike Slive's pay in 2008 was $551,250 plus $99,438 in deferred compensation. That was a step down from the previous year, when he pocketed $525,000 in regular pay and $1,225,658 in deferred compensation.
Not bad for running a nonprofit.
Now, with the new TV contracts in hand, Slive and the gang can make some real dough, especially if they can squeeze the pesky independent media out of the picture.