Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey is optimistic in his efforts to forge a kinder, gentler Egg Bowl.
The Monday following Mississippi State’s 35-3 win over Ole Miss in Oxford last season – a game that included a bench-clearing brawl at the end of the third quarter – Sankey made a public statement and announced his intention to have both athletics directors come together for a sit-down meeting.
“These incidents have become too common in this series,” Sankey said last November.
Both athletics directors would be called to the SEC office for peace talks with the goal of “reviewing past issues and (to) develop a plan for the purpose of creating a healthier environment for this annual game.”
In an interview last week, Sankey would not speculate on the possibility of penalties for either or both schools if there is a fight on this year’s holiday for goodwill and thanksgiving.
“It’s inappropriate for me to hypothesize,” he said.
A lot has happened since Sankey’s off-season summons.
The meeting actually took place in Jacksonville in May, a face-to-face following a wider meeting of all conference ADs.
A couple of weeks after that meeting, Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork announced he would accept the same position at SEC rival Texas A&M.
Ole Miss named its lead fundraiser, Keith Carter, as interim AD. Carter was promoted to the permanent position Friday.
Sankey – who was in Jackson last week as a marker was placed honoring the city as the site of the original office of the SEC – and Carter have communicated about the Egg Bowl.
“We’ve had follow-up conversations through the summer with the focus really being on moving forward and the opportunity on national TV on Thanksgiving Night to have the focus on the football and the play on the field rather than other aspects from the past,” Sankey said.
Last year’s fight began as an end zone scuffle between Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown and MSU defensive back Jonathan Abram and quickly spread to become a wider confrontation.
At one point MSU safety Jamal Peters ripped the helmet from the head of Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, then the backup to starter Jordan Ta’amu.
In the end MSU defensive backs Peters and Cameron Dantzler were ejected.
So was linebacker Willie Gay, who got caught up on a technicality. Gay had previously been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. When game officials assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct call on everyone on both teams after the fight, it was the second of the game for Gay who was then ejected.
Ole Miss defensive back C.J. Moore, who did not play in the game, was ejected.
Ole Miss freshman running back Jerrion Ealy, then a recruit, remembers watching the events unfold.
“It was pretty normal, kind of expected it,” Ealy said. “It’s a rivalry game. You kind of expect all those things to happen.”
Sankey said SEC officials will not be instructed differently for this year’s Egg Bowl than they would for any other conference game.
“I’m encouraged by all of our conversations since last year, really complimentary of both universities and their leaders. My focus, again, is on a well-played football game. I think it will be such and will not have the other distractions,” he said.