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Sankey: Sports gambling, transfer waivers among SEC topics

SEC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 13: Greg Sankey the new commissioner of the SEC talks to the media before the quaterfinals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 13, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Greg Sankey does a little bragging when asked about the main item on the agenda for this week’s Southeastern Conference spring meetings.

“That as a conference we’re doing really, really well,” the league’s commissioner said. “I’d put that at the top.”

The annual gathering of coaches, administrators and league officials begins Tuesday in Destin, Florida. And rest assured, it will be about more than SEC types patting themselves on the back over their athletic successes.

There also figures to be plenty of talk about sports gambling — specifically the prospect of NFL-style availability lists outlining injury status — NCAA transfer waivers, and the potential for student athletes to eventually be compensated for their names, images and likenesses.

Sankey spoke with The Associated Press about the upcoming meetings Sunday on the balcony of his Hoover Met suite shortly before the baseball championship game.

The potential hot topics include sports betting and the injury lists. The Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting a couple of weeks before last year’s meetings. Now, several states in SEC country have legalized, or appear on their way to legalizing sports betting, including Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee .

Some SEC football coaches treat their players’ injury status as top-secret information, wary of giving opposing coaches any insight about their availability. Others, including Alabama’s Nick Saban, are sometimes more forthcoming while still stopping well short of an official list describing players’ status.

“Sometime out there, it may be part of what we do, but I think we should proceed very carefully,” Sankey said. “I’m not in any rush to see that happen. I think it’s a mistake to hurry and not do something correctly.”

The NCAA transfer portal and waiver process has created some angst, with some players moving on in midseason to preserve a year of eligibility. Sankey also wants more clarity on the waiver process, having previously expressed concern about the high number of approvals being granted.

“Do I expect conversation? Yes,” Sankey said. “Do I think that’s a central part? Perhaps in interviews. My view is we have to pay attention to the different patterns. I think, if I’ve looked at the data correctly, we’ve accelerated the number of people looking to transfer. I’ve seen some media articles that there’s more people in the transfer (portals) than there are available scholarships. I’ve said that for years: We can’t assume that people just have opportunities, or better opportunities, when they transfer.”

He’s also waiting for the conclusions of a new NCAA working group examining potentially letting athletes make money off their names, images and likenesses. Current rules forbid them in most circumstances from receiving such benefits or compensation from a school or outside source.

Georgia President Jere Morehead and Tennessee faculty athletics representative Don Bruce are part of the working group.

“Discussions of positions are a little bit premature,” Sankey said. “We just want to make sure we know what’s going on now, which is certainly different than we’ve seen.”

Other items on the agenda:

—The NCAA’s vice president of enforcement Jon Duncan is set to talk about men’s basketball issues that surfaced from a federal investigation. LSU coach Will Wade was suspended after leaked excerpts of an FBI wiretap captured him speaking with a person convicted of funneling illegal payments to the families of college basketball recruits. Wade has denied wrongdoing and was later reinstated.

Ex-Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit bribery.

—The SEC’s head football coaches and referees will gather for a moderated discussion Wednesday morning. “I expect that if we televised it, we might have good ratings on that,” Sankey said.

—Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, will speak in order “to share with us some of the learning that’s going on at that level,” Sankey said.

—Sankey expects the SEC to finalize bowl agreements for the next six-year cycle “soon.” The current one expires after the 2019 season. He also anticipates another talk about the possibility of expanding the College Football Playoffs at some point, though he thinks the current four-team system “works well and can continue to work well.”

Back-patting aside, the agenda doesn’t seem to lend itself to big news coming out of the event.

“You never know what happens at these meetings, so stay tuned,” Sankey said.