FREEZE TIPTOES mine­fields dur­ing ques­tion­ing.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - By Tom Mur­phy and Bob Holt

HOOVER, Ala. — Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze steered clear of di­rect re­sponses to a cou­ple of hot top­ics after giv­ing a 16-minute open­ing state­ment dur­ing his 28 min­utes in the main me­dia room Thurs­day.

Freeze ad­dressed the on­go­ing NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Rebels’ foot­ball pro­gram dur­ing his open­ing re­marks, invit­ing re­porters to read the univer­sity’s re­sponse to the NCAA No­tice of Al­le­ga­tions, but he asked for no ques­tions about the case.

Freeze also stayed away from a ques­tion about the law­suit filed Wed­nes­day by former Ar­kan­sas and Ole Miss coach Hous­ton Nutt, which al­leges Freeze and the Ole Miss ad­min­is­tra­tion en­gaged in a smear cam­paign to cre­ate the nar­ra­tive that the NCAA rules vi­o­la­tions oc­curred un­der Nutt’s watch.

“I would ab­so­lutely love to share my opin­ion on it,” Freeze said of the law­suit. “Un­for­tu­nately, it’s a le­gal case and I can’t com­ment.”

The Rebels have self­im­posed schol­ar­ship re­duc­tions, a bowl ban this sea­son and other sanc­tions in an ef­fort to lessen penal­ties from the NCAA com­mit­tee on in­frac­tions. Their date in front of the com­mit­tee has not been set.

Freeze framed the 2017 sea­son as one that could be re­mem­bered for a long time at Ole Miss.

“I think this has the po­ten­tial to set up our staff to have our great­est hour,” he said. “We can model for a lot of peo­ple what it can look like for peo­ple that gen­uinely care for one an­other and look at what we do have as a bless­ing, and then set an ex­am­ple of how you go through dif­fi­cult times.”

On the move?

SEC me­dia days have been held in the Birm­ing­ham metro area since the event started in 1985, and in Hoover since 2001, but the op­er­a­tion could be on the move.

“Hoover’s been a great home for us, and it may stay here,” said SEC as­so­ciate com­mis­sioner Herb Vin­cent, a North Lit­tle Rock na­tive and Lit­tle Rock Catholic grad­u­ate. “But after this year, we’re go­ing to eval­u­ate what to do, be­cause we’ve had some other cities ex­press in­ter­est.”

Vin­cent said the

SEC of­fice isn’t ready to name other pos­si­ble sites, but cities un­der con­sid­er­a­tion ac­cord­ing to a knowl­edge­able source in­clude At­lanta, Dal­las and Nashville, Tenn.

“We’re not look­ing to move it per­ma­nently,” Vin­cent said. “We’re just look­ing to see if we can take the brand some­where else in the SEC foot­print, if it makes sense. If it doesn’t, then we’ll stay here. We’re just look­ing at other op­tions.”

Auburn to East?

Former Auburn coach Pat Dye sounded sup­port­ive this spring of Auburn mov­ing to the SEC East and pos­si­bly switch­ing places with Mis­souri, but his idea has come across as a non­starter this week in Hoover.

SEC com­mis­sioner Greg Sankey said the po­ten­tial move hasn’t been an agenda item in league meet­ings.

“It is a con­ver­sa­tion in most large press con­fer­ences in which I ap­pear, and that’s the ex­tent of the con­ver­sa­tion,” Sankey said.

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn echoed Sankey’s re­marks and added, “I like the way it is right now. The West right now is the best league in col­lege foot­ball. It’s a man’s league.”

Malzahn went on to list the names of all the teams in the SEC West, with the ex­cep­tion of Ar­kan­sas, an over­sight that was pointed out to him later.

“Ar­kan­sas, def­i­nitely,” Malzahn said. “I have a lot of re­spect for them. And of course, we go on the road this year as far as that goes.”

New face

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze is on board with sopho­more quar­ter­back Shea Pat­ter­son emerg­ing as the so-called “face of the pro­gram” dur­ing the sea­son.

“It has to hap­pen,” Freeze said. “And I think the great thing is I think his ceil­ing can be re­ally high.

“I don’t know that I can help him at all, or that the coach­ing staff can help him, with his re­lease. It’s pretty good. His run­ning around, I wish we could take credit for train­ing him to do that, but that just comes nat­u­ral to him.”

Birth­day party

SEC com­mis­sioner Greg Sankey re­vealed Thurs­day that he shares an Aug. 3 birth­day with two SEC head coaches.

Sankey and Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sum­lin were born on the same day, Aug. 3, 1964. South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp was born on Aug. 3, 1971.

Cap­tain Hurst

South Carolina tight end Hay­den Hurst started his ca­reer as a base­ball player after be­ing se­lected in the 17th round by the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates in 2012, but now he’s suc­ceed­ing as a col­lege foot­ball player with the Game­cocks.

He spent two years in the Pi­rates or­ga­ni­za­tion be­fore giv­ing up base­ball and walk­ing on at South Carolina in 2015, a month be­fore his 22nd birth­day.

Hurst caught 48 passes last sea­son, a school record for tight ends at South Carolina, and was voted one of four per­ma­nent team cap­tains dur­ing the 2016 sea­son. He was the first sopho­more in school his­tory to be elected a per­ma­nent team cap­tain.

“Hav­ing Coach Muschamp and the play­ers re­spect me and feel that way about me and see my hard work, that’s just a hum­bling thing,” Hurst said.

“It’s about the re­spect you have from your peers, and to me he’s as re­spected a player as we have on our foot­ball team,” South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp said.

Trainor on the mic

Kevin Trainor, the as­so­ciate ath­letic di­rec­tor for com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Ar­kan­sas, served as a mod­er­a­tor of the coaches news con­fer­ences at SEC me­dia days for the sev­enth con­sec­u­tive year.

“Kevin does a great job,” SEC as­so­ciate com­mis­sioner Herb Vin­cent said. “He knows the me­dia and the coaches and he knows how the event runs, knows the flow of it.

“He han­dles it just the way we need some­one to han­dle it. He’s a vet­eran guy, and we like to have that here. I think he’s got a lot of good years left in him to keep do­ing it for us.”

CEO of de­fense

Auburn safety Tray Matthews has got­ten the nick­name “CEO of de­fense” as he en­ters his se­nior sea­son.

“CEO of de­fense, that’s some­thing coach Steele came up with,” said Matthews, ref­er­enc­ing Tigers de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Kevin Steele.

Hog trans­fer

South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp was re­luc­tant to see run­ning back David Wil­liams leave his ros­ter dur­ing the spring. Wil­liams trans­ferred as a grad­u­ate stu­dent to Ar­kan­sas after Coach Bret Bielema and Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Jeff Long ap­proached Muschamp at the SEC spring meet­ings in Destin, Fla., to ask for his in­tra­con­fer­ence re­lease.

“David, first of all, is an out­stand­ing per­son, an out­stand­ing young man, and a re­ally good foot­ball player,” Muschamp said. “I didn’t want to lose David. I tried to talk him into stay­ing.

“I was in Destin and Bret and Jeff Long came up and said, ‘Hey, would you be will­ing to re­lease him within the league, even though we play y’all next year?’ ”

Muschamp gave his bless­ing to the trans­fer.

“I think they’ll find they’ve got a good one,” Muschamp said.

Clown nose

Ar­kan­sas cor­ner­back Ryan Pul­ley must have watched Mis­souri line­backer Eric Beisel’s ap­pear­ance at SEC me­dia days. Beisel con­tin­ued his smack talk­ing re­gard­ing the Tigers’ ri­valry with Ar­kan­sas on Wed­nes­day, call­ing the Ra­zor­backs “the team down south” and re­fer­ring to them as “cute lit­tle kit­tens.”

Pul­ley isn’t a fan of the an­tics.

“This guy ERIC BEISEL Is A Straight Clown. Some­body Give This Man A Red Nose,” Pul­ley wrote on his Twit­ter ac­count.

Bowl boost

Wright Waters, the Foot­ball Bowl As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man, touted the strength and health of bowls in his ses­sion-open­ing talk Thurs­day.

Waters said an NCAA au­dit re­vealed there was a to­tal pay­out of $616.8 mil­lion for the bowls after the 2016 sea­son, an in­crease of 2.1per­cent from the year be­fore. With in­sti­tu­tional ex­penses de­ducted, the net rev­enue was $511.4 mil­lion, Waters said.

“The great mis­con­cep­tion is that schools are los­ing money go­ing to bowl games,” Waters said.

Waters said at­ten­dance and TV rat­ings were down slightly dur­ing the 2016 post­sea­son. The 4.5 per­cent drop in TV rat­ings marked the third dip in the past four years, Waters said.

Waters said a poll con­ducted by Ohio Univer­sity showed that 93 per­cent of coaches and ath­letes were ei­ther sat­is­fied or very sat­is­fied with their bowl ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Bot­tom line, peo­ple are happy go­ing to bowl games, and we think that’s the No. 1 most crit­i­cal is­sue,” Waters said.

There will be 40 bowls in the 2017 post­sea­son, down one from last year as the Poin­set­tia Bowl has folded. An­other change is that the Mi­ami Beach Bowl has moved to Frisco, Texas, and is owned by ESPN Events.

King George

SEC Net­work an­chor Dari Nowkhah spoke early Thurs­day to pro­mote the lat­est in­stall­ment of the SEC Sto­ried series.

The doc­u­men­tary, which will pre­miere Sept. 5 at 8 p.m., will be on former South Carolina tail­back George Rogers, who won the 1980 Heis­man Tro­phy.

“If you’re in my way, you’re go­ing to get pun­ished,” Rogers said in the pre­view shown to me­dia mem­bers.

Colum­nist poke

South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp did not al­low Or­lando Sen­tinel colum­nist Mike Bianchi to get his full iden­ti­fi­ca­tion out to pref­ace a ques­tion be­fore giv­ing him a jab.

“You don’t have to iden­tify your­self,” Muschamp said. “Your voice could tor­ture pris­on­ers of war.”

After the laugh­ter died down, Muschamp cracked, “I was wait­ing for a year to say that.”

Team de­lay

The pre­sea­son pre­dicted or­ders of fin­ish, which are typ­i­cally re­leased on the fi­nal day of SEC me­dia days, were pushed back this sum­mer. The or­der of fin­ish and pre­sea­son All-SEC teams used to be re­leased to­gether on the fi­nal morn­ing of me­dia days. Last year the me­dia vot­ing for pre­sea­son All-SEC came out the day after the event con­cluded, and this year both the All-SEC vot­ing and the or­ders of fin­ish will come out to­day.

Chuck Dun­lap, the SEC di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said league of­fi­cials de­cided it wasn’t fair that the fi­nal three teams were made to an­swer ques­tions about where they were picked to fin­ish when the first 11 teams didn’t face the same ques­tions.

AP/BUTCH DILL

SEC Com­mis­sioner Greg Sankey ad­mit­ted dur­ing SEC me­dia days that he has heard a lot of chat­ter about the pos­si­bil­ity of Auburn mov­ing to the East­ern Di­vi­sion and Mis­souri head­ing to the West, but noth­ing has been of­fi­cially brought to him dur­ing league meet­ings.

Freeze

Muschamp

Hurst

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