May 30, 2002
By EDDIE PELLS
AP Sports Writer
DESTIN, Fla. (AP) - Roy Kramer is a lightning rod with a legacy.
Some see the outgoing Southeastern Conference commissioner as a shrewd businessman who made millions for his schools and transformed the SEC from a regional presence into a national power.
Others see him as the man who frustrated the average football fan with the Bowl Championship Series.
Visionary mastermind or myopic autocrat?
The 72-year-old architect of the BCS doesn't want people to waste time on that debate in this, his last few months on the job. He insists he would like to simply fade away.
"I'm not a legacy guy," he said this week in Destin, where he's chairing his final SEC spring meeting.
Whether he wants the legacy or not, there's no denying the imprint Kramer has had on college sports, especially football.
"By any standard, Roy's influence has been mind-boggling," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said.
A list of Kramer's major accomplishments is impressive.
-He manipulated the bowl system to give college football the BCS and, most notably, a national title game where one had been lacking for decades.
-Found homes for more than half his SEC schools in the lesser bowl games.
-Negotiated unprecedented TV deals. On Friday, the SEC is expected to announce it will share nearly $95 million in revenues this year, most of it from TV and bowl games. In Kramer's first year, 1990, the SEC shared $16.3 million.
-Assured a strong future for the SEC when he oversaw expansion to 12 teams in 1992, making it the first so-called megaconference.
-Hatched the idea of splitting the conference into divisions and adding a title game to crown a champion, also in 1992.
Kramer, a former high school and small-college football coach, knows he has critics. Tops on the list are college football fans who don't understand why he won't give their sport a playoff system.
"I never say never," he said. "But I think we have to be very careful."
Kramer rattles off his defense of the BCS like a stump speech - he's given this talk so many times, he doesn't even have to think to make the words come.
He insists the BCS gives the regular season more meaning, gives the sport the national-title game it long sought, and "keeps people talking about college football," even though much of the conversation is about how flawed the system is.
Kramer also likes the fact that more than just eight or 12 schools have a chance at the postseason, the way it would be with a playoff.
Indeed, next season, 56 teams - more than half of Division I-A - will be able to say they played in a bowl game. Some say that's overkill, but not Kramer.
"I've never been to a bowl game where a player or coach or a fan says, `Isn't this terrible, we're in a bowl game?"' he insists.
The SEC puts more teams into bowl games than any other conference, thanks mostly to a vision Kramer had when the BCS was in its infancy: Slot teams into minor bowl games based on what position they finish in their conference. Make the conferences negotiate with the bowls for spots in those games.
A good idea? Again, it depends on whom you ask.
"For us, having bowls tied into conferences has been a detriment," Gator Bowl chairman Rick Catlett said. "It's left us with repetitive games over and over and over again."
Still, Catlett concedes, had the commissioner championed a playoff system, the Gator Bowl might not exist anymore.
Kramer believes the bowl system he created helped save college football. And while he's content to let the BCS debate rage on, he's more prickly when it comes to the conduct of the 12 schools he oversees.
As he calls order to his final SEC meetings, two schools - Alabama and Kentucky - are on NCAA probation. Another three - Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas - are under investigation.
That adds to some rather unseemly numbers: SEC schools have been caught for major violations 15 times since Kramer became commissioner in 1990, more than any other major conference.
One issue at this year's meetings is a proposal by SEC President Robert Khayat, chancellor at Mississippi, to form a task force to better enforce NCAA regulations.
Kramer is wary of the idea, fearing it will add another layer of bureaucracy to the already confusing infractions process.
"The SEC already has oversight right now, in a positive way," Kramer said. "That's our role, is to make sure an institution does what it's supposed to do."
Yet the schools keep cheating and getting caught. It's a black mark on Kramer's record, although no conscientious athletic director is willing to make the commissioner the scapegoat.
"If University of Florida has a problem, then that's my problem as the athletic director," Jeremy Foley said, repeating a refrain of several ADs. "It has nothing to do with Roy Kramer."
Always spinning, Kramer views the SEC's myriad dealings with the NCAA in a positive light.
"In almost every situation, the schools have cooperated with the NCAA," Kramer said. "They stood up to it. That's the kind of integrity you should have in this conference and I believe we do have that."
The SEC's search for Kramer's replacement has been slow and full of roadblocks. School presidents, wary of troubles with the NCAA and the increased commercialism of sports, want to play a bigger role in the selection of the next leader.
Kramer says he'll have no say in who follows him up, but he's sure of one trait the new guy will need.
"Thick skin," he says with a smile. "Thick skin."