HOOVER, Ala. • Ain’t no sunshine since they’ve gone.
There was a meeting between SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and the athletics directors for Ole Miss and Mississippi State as Sankey sought to forge a more respectful Egg Bowl.
Sunshine laws do not apply when the commissioner summons athletics directors from rival schools for a meeting, and involved parties aren’t speaking in specifics, but the message is clear to the Rebels and Bulldogs:
The annual rivalry game between Ole Miss and MSU was delayed by a lengthy brawl last Thanksgiving. The following Monday, Sankey issued a public statement citing his displeasure. He referenced similar issues in previous Egg Bowls and said he wanted to meet with MSU athletics director John Cohen and then-Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork to chart a new course.
“These incidents have become too common in this series. I will require both athletics directors to meet with me at the SEC office in the off-season to review past issues and develop a plan for the purpose of creating a healthier environment for this annual game.”
The meeting was actually in Jacksonville in early May and came at the end of a wider meeting of all the conference ADs.
“We had a frank, open, honest discussion led by the commissioner. I thought he did a really good job. There are some concerns on both sides. I think we addressed those concerns, and we have a pretty good plan moving forward,” Cohen said.
Sankey, as he christened SEC Media Days at the former Wynfrey Hotel on Monday, described the meeting as one with a “healthy conversation.”
Since the meeting, there’s been a change in administration at Ole Miss with Bjork accepting the AD position at Texas A&M.
Keith Carter, the chief fundraiser at Ole Miss, is now serving as interim athletics director.
“We’ve got to be better going into the game with a mindset of having more respect,” Carter said. “In a sport that is very physical and aggressive you want to play with passion right up to the line. We’ve got to figure a way that we don’t cross that line.”
In addition to the emotion that would accompany any rivalry the Ole Miss-MSU series has been spiced in recent seasons by the limited immunity granted by the NCAA for MSU player Leo Lewis in exchange for speaking with NCAA personnel as they investigated Ole Miss football.
Game officials issued multiple penalties for what most people refer to as the Egg Bowl fight in 2018.
“Actually it wasn’t defined as fighting as I remember. It was flagrant personal fouls just to be technical. There is a difference,” Sankey said.
Sankey has the authority to issue penalties to individuals or schools if the behavior does not change though neither Cohen nor Carter believe that’s where this is headed.
“I know he doesn’t want it to come that, and we don’t want it to come to that,” Cohen said.
Sankey presented a positive vibe on the Jacksonville meeting. It’s unclear if there will be additional meetings or if this on-going conversation will continue in a less formal manner.
“We’ve had what I would describe as healthy conversations with the focus always being to move through these contests without those types of conflicts,” Sankey said.