Tennessee OT Dallas Thomas at SEC Media Days
HOOVER, Ala. — Derek Dooley was more than three hours into his whirlwind tour at Thursday's SEC Football Media Days and less than 10 minutes away from fulfilling all of his duties when he fielded a question that made him step back, collect his thoughts and deliver one of his longest answers of the day.
The topic was a common one: How did he react to the academic- and enforcement-related proposals SEC commissioner Mike Slive made Wednesday?
Dooley, as he's been accustomed to do throughout his year and a half as Tennessee's football coach, didn't shy away from expressing an opinion or two.
"You know," Dooley said, "I get a kick out of a lot of these issues."
On no issue did Dooley exude more passion than a proposal that would allow players to land multi-year scholarships straight out of high school.
Slive thinks they're a good idea and would provide a benefit to players who aren't currently receiving the full cost of attendance. Dooley, much like South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, saw it another way.
"I hear about how it's so awful when a player gets a scholarship taken away," Dooley said. "I'm sitting there going, 'Universities give academic scholarships all the time, and if a student doesn't meet certain academic requirements, they take it away from them.'
"It's no different to me in athletics. We have a commitment to them, and they have a commitment to us. So we're giving them a benefit and they're giving us a benefit. That's why it's a contract."
At last month's SEC spring meetings, university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors passed a number of legislative items that intend to prevent the practice of oversigning. Dooley and his fellow coaches largely disagreed with the policies, specifically those that limit teams from signing more than 25 players in a given year.
One way to make that ceiling less daunting is to cut loose underachieving players by not renewing their scholarships, which are currently one-year contracts. The practice is frowned upon outside of coaching circles, but has not showed any sign of slowing.
"I think the market takes place when a team is abusing that situation," Dooley said. "If a coach is just taking away scholarships, kicking people off the team, the market is going to take care of it in recruiting. Who is going to want to go play for the guy?"
On more than one occasion Thursday, Dooley said the uniqueness of college football is at risk if broad-sweeping, universal academic policies such as the ones Slive proposed Wednesday are adopted. Among Slive's ideas were elevating the minimum qualifying grade-point average from 2.0 to 2.5 and requiring prospective student-athletes to pass a certain number of courses in each of their four years of high school.
At one point, Dooley jokingly suggested that college football teams should disassociate themselves from their respective institutions if they want everyone to fall in line with the same standards.
"They set these benchmarks of APR because they want to improve how we do things and football has met those benchmarks," Dooley said. "Now they're upset because we're the lowest of all the sports. My question back was: at one point is the lowest good enough? The lowest guy in the medical class still becomes a doctor."
Dooley found one segment of Slive's plan to his liking — the one that truly hit home with Dooley and anyone else associated with UT.
Slive is in favor of continued tweaks to the NCAA's enforcement policy, and so is Dooley. Dooley said he's had to answer questions from recruits about the school's looming sanctions for a third consecutive class.
Dooley expressed his frustration with the length of the NCAA's probe into the UT athletic department at last month's spring meetings. He said he left satisfied with what he heard from NCAA president Mark Emmert and vice president of enforcement Julie Roe Lach.
"They understand what our concerns are," Dooley said. "I think we're making tremendous progress to improve that process."