Sports, Thrill of Victory

Around the SEC: Football season preparation continues

Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor will be suspended for the Massachusetts game. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

There were some big news items on a few Southeastern Conference campuses with the start of the college football season just two weeks away.

Here are the most notable things that happened within the past week.

Hart out as Tennessee’s AD

Weeks after he’d told the Associated Press that he wouldn’t be stepping aside as Tennessee’s athletic director any time, soon, Dave Hart, 67, announced on Thursday that he’d vacate the position on June 30 of next year.

UT athletic director Dave Hart intends to retire at the end of the school year. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

UT athletic director Dave Hart intends to retire at the end of the school year. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

Hart’s five-year career in Knoxville hasn’t lacked for drama.

On the field, the best move of the Hart era may have been the hiring of football coach Butch Jones, who has the Vols ranked No. 10 in the preseason Amway Coaches’ Poll. If UT were to finish that high, it would be the program’s first top-10 finish since the Vols finished fourth in both major polls in 2001.

According to the AP, the UT athletic program also posted a surplus of $13.1 million in 2014-15 after a nearly $4 million deficit three years before

Hart also oversaw the consolidation of the men’s and women’s athletic departments into one.

However, there’s seemed to be more bad headlines than positive ones.

The latest came earlier in the summer when the athletic department settled a $2.48 million, Title IX lawsuit in which eight women alleged that Tennessee created a “hostile sexual environment,” alleging various things from rapes to sexual assaults and claiming that UT took a stance of indifference to those events. Many of the incidents leading to the suit came during Hart’s supervision.

Hart also hired former men’s basketball coach Donnie Tyndall, who was months away from getting a 10-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA that would eventually result in his firing by UT barely 11 months after he was hired. Those were for violations committed at Southern Miss. Hart should have known better, as Tyndall was guilty of similar infractions at Morehead State. 

There was also the ugly moment during which the late Pat Summitt initially claimed that Hart forced her out not long after learning of her battle against early-onset dementia. This came in an affidavit in a suit against the school on behalf of a former female employee which alleged age and sex discrimination.

And though Hart made the popular hire of Dave Serrano to coach the baseball program, the Vols haven’t been to an NCAA Tournament or finished better than fifth in the SEC East in his five seasons. 

Even the revenue surplus can largely be credited to the league’s lucrative deal with ESPN that created the SEC Network.

That said, it’s worth mentioning that UT athletics was a mess in many ways before Hart’s arrival. He’s got a chance to be remembered on a better plane than is the case now; much of that will be determined by the football team’s performance this fall. 

Ole Miss’s Wilkins ineligible for 2016 season

Nobody seemed quite sure who Ole Miss would have as its top tailback going into the season, but Cordova, Tenn. native Jordan Wilkins, who ran for 379 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2015, seemed to have as good a shot as anyone. But Wilkins failed to get academically eligible for the fall, meaning that senior Akeem Judd, who might have been ahead of Wilkins anyway, likely gets the nod. 

Judd gained 421 yards and averaged 5.5 yards a crack last season. Neither offers much in the way of pass-catching. 

Freshmen Eric Swinney and D’Vaughn Pennamon, along with junior Eugene Brazely, may also stand to benefit by Wilkins’s absence.

Missouri’s Brown to miss 6-8 weeks

Missouri’s 2015 offense, which produced an SEC-low 13.6 points per game, probably wasn’t going to be good in 2016 anyway. Now, it’ll have to make do without projected starter Nate Brown, who was second in the team in catches (27) and yards (326) last season, and led the team with four touchdown catches.

Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor will be suspended for the Massachusetts game. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor will be suspended for the Massachusetts game. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

The Tigers don’t have a clear heir apparent to replace Brown, and will now count on a slew of unproven receivers to replace him. Alabama transfer Chris Black is a decent bet to lead the team in receiving this year, which might have been the case anyway. 

Florida’s Tabor, Lewis suspended for the opener

Florida All-American cornerback Jalen Tabor’s talent is rivaled only by his ability to run his mouth. Weeks after Tabor held his own “press conference” via Twitter at the same time some of his teammates represented the school at SEC Media Days, Tabor got into a fight with teammate C’yontai Lewis that led to the suspension of both for UF’s opener with UMass.

The Gators shouldn’t have trouble winning the game with or without the two, but the Lewis absence adds another layer of complication to an already-thin receiver situation. Florida is already without prized receiver recruits Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells, both expected to contribute this year, due to a suspension over a BB gun incident.