COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina President Harris Pastides would like to see the Southeastern Conference cap expansion at 14 teams.
Pastides and the other SEC presidents have voted to accept Texas A&M as the league’s 13th member, once the Aggies resolve legal issues regarding their departure from the Big 12. The presidents have not decided whether to add a 14th team.
"I don’t think 13 is a sustainable number, but I think 14 is," Pastides said. "I’m not in favor of 16 personally right now. You begin to lose what is a very special quality."
Pastides spoke with The Associated Press this week about SEC expansion and his role in an NCAA summit this past summer regarding reform in major college athletics.
Pastides is favor of the SEC growing after Texas A&M joins "because 14 works better than 13," he said. "But if it were Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech (together), to me, I’d be saying, ‘What happened to the SEC?"’
He’s seen how quickly things can change.
Pastides initially passed on an invite last month to join a gathering of SEC presidents to discuss what to do about A&M; he had his hands full with the semester starting. But he soon got a call back from SEC Commissioner Mike Slive who told Pastides he would be the only school leader absent.
"I said, ‘Are you kidding?"’ Pastides recalled. "I didn’t want to be the only one left out."
Neither do any of his peers, which has led in part to the ongoing changes in college football.
Pastides understands he and other like-minded leaders might not be able to slow the expansion train once it leaves the station — as was the case with A&M — but he would like to limit how far it goes.
He and Florida President Bernie Machen were among the college presidents and chancellors who met this summer with NCAA President Mark Emmert to talk about troubling issues in athletics. Out of nowhere Pastides got a text message from Machen about an urgent matter that turned out be Texas A&M wanting to join.
"As a business decision, this worked," Pastides said of the Aggies and the SEC. "But it would be my preference that we didn’t go too far."
Pastides was comfortable with the SEC’s 12 members, but felt Texas A&M had the right profile for the league and for South Carolina. It’s a highly regarded academic institution and will help South Carolina expand its reach to talented athletes and students in that area.
"The A&M move wasn’t viewed by me as, ‘Oh great, lets hurry up and do it,"’ Pastides said. "But the business side of me felt there were enough positives in the mix of that school, and the fact that it was they who were getting a divorce from their league."
The president said identifying a 14th school is just speculation and rumors right now. He’d like for SEC members to have some time out of the glare of conference realignment to find a similarly good match as Texas A&M. Pastides knows that might not happen.
He was surprised to learn about Pittsburgh and Syracuse leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference and is prepared for the phone call or email detailing another opportunity the SEC might have to take to keep up.
Conference realignment isn’t the only challenge facing the NCAA. Others include overhauling the NCAA rule book, the question of paying athletes and academic standards.
Many of those issues were discussed at the NCAA summit and Pastides said it would stun critics who don’t expect significant change just how deep the reforms would go. He said the league presidents agreed on was raising academic standards for college entrance across the board.
"Where the bar is hasn’t been determined," Pastides said. "But it’s higher, not lower and not at the same level."
Pastides also thinks there’ll be a thinner, reformed NCAA rule book that focuses on the bigger issues instead of the so-called, "peanut butter rule."
"You can buy a high school athlete visiting a bagel but not peanut butter for the bagel," Pastides said. "I think what the presidents and President Emmert want is to focus the compliance rules on things that would take us away from the collegiate model."
Pastides said college athletes are not professionals and won’t be paid, despite what South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier advocated. Pastides appreciated his football coach’s viewpoint because "it came from a generous place."
Spurrier supported coach’s paying players from their salaries. Pastides said Spurrier’s words got people talking about the issue and may have helped another expected reform in raising athletic scholarships to cover the true cost of school.
"These are not professional athletes and should not be treated as such," he said.
Pastides declined to discuss South Carolina’s current NCAA problems, other than to say the governing body would get the best cooperation it’s ever seen from a school personnel. The NCAA alleges South Carolina received $55,000 worth of impermissible benefits from athletes living at a local hotel for a reduced rate and for involvement with boosters from a mentoring organization. The NCAA also said South Carolina failed to properly monitor either situation.
The school must respond to the NCAA by Dec. 14 and appear before its Committee on Infractions next February.