For the first time in seven years, the SEC media days will not include Urban Meyer.
That doesn't mean Florida's former rock star coach is sitting back taking it easy. In this recent interview with CBSSports.com, Meyer is as outspoken as ever. He has been active NCAA reform activist, actually traveling to Indianapolis during the offseason to speak to NCAA officials. He's also doing some analyst work for ESPN.
(Still can't get over his image when I see him on TV. Is he the interviewer or the interviewee? Something looks out of place.)
In this question-and-answer session, we recently spoke to Meyer on a variety of subjects. He is adamant about holding coaches accountable for wrongdoing. Also, don't necessarily believe he'll automatically be back coaching in 2012. Meyer just completed a fulfilling father-son baseball trip around the country and is looking forward to watching his daughter Gigi play volleyball at Florida Gulf Coast University.
We talked to Meyer in the middle of our series earlier this month regarding cheating in college football. We started out by telling him of our main findings: That almost half of FBS schools have had a major violation in football since 1987.
Urban Meyer: "I absolutely believe it. You threw some stats at me I didn't know. In the 80s and 90s I was at schools that ... we just didn't hear much about it [cheating]. It wasn't a big story. I didn't hear it in my staff room. It seems like the last five years is where that [has happened]. I'd have an assistant coach tell me, 'This is what's going on and this is this situation.' You just shake your head and go, 'Wow!'.
CBSSports.com: Was it because of the conference you were in [SEC] or the climate or what?
Meyer: "I think the SEC gets a lot of publicity. The last five years is when it started, and it just wasn't just tied to the SEC. You would just hear non-stop issues about -- for example -- 'Why is this group not coming to your camp now? Why is this kid not visiting your school?'
Sometimes assistant coaches use it as a defense mechanism where like, 'This school is doing this. That's why they got [a recruit].' Maybe they outworked us.
"But it seemed like every day I was hearing another story about something that was going on that shouldn't be going on."
CBSSports.com: What did you tell the NCAA in general terms about the current climate?
Meyer: "I have a good relationship with the NCAA. What I told them and what I told others: We complicate this thing as having a very clear set of rules and a very clear set of punishment structure ... [The NCAA Manual], it's a big book that says you can't do this, you can't do that. But it never says, if you do this, if you rob a bank you know exactly what is going to happen to you.
"If you commit -- a term I never heard before until a few years ago -- a secondary violation, there is no such thing as a secondary violation. If it's a mistake it's one thing, but if it's intentional you should be punished as such."
CBSSports.com: Does it amaze you that essentially there is no bylaw to govern what Cecil Newton did? (Offer his son's services in exchange for $180,000 at Mississippi State.)
Meyer: "The person that has to make the conscious decision [to cheat] is very well aware of the [response] that will take place. It's kind of a difficult situation. I don't think the objective is to catch everyone. I think it's to deter behavior. There's only one way to deter behavior and that's to have a risk/reward situation in place where the risk is so great people will quit doing it.
"If you are asked a question and are untruthful with the NCAA, everyone has to know what it [punishment] is. The case with Dez Bryant was clear, it was a year of eligibility."
(Note: Bryant, an Oklahoma State receiver, was suspended for the season after lying to the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders.)
CBSSports.com: Are you, then, waiting like a lot of us to see what happens to Bruce Pearl and Jim Tressel?
Meyer: "I'm kind of anxious see because I love this game of football ... I think this is the perfect opportunity to make this statement."
CBSSports.com: Is it time to go to the Olympic model where athletes are paid a stipend because the amateur model is broke?
Meyer: "We can't do that. That's not what this is all about. You've got a president [the NCAA's Mark Emmert] that is very committed to keep college football the sport it is supposed to be."
CBSSports.com: Is the basic issue here not getting a competitive or recruiting advantage? That's what most coaches are concerned about, right?
Meyer: "That's very accurate."
CBSSports.com: There is talk of stratifying penalties. In other words, separate the felonies and the misdemeanors. As it stands major penalties fall into a broad category to the point that Army is considered a major violator from 1980, even though it received only a public reprimand.
I don't know if that solves the problem but at least it keeps half of FBS being labeled quote-unquote "cheaters". What are your thoughts?
Meyer: "That's where you're hitting the nail right on the head. There's two terms: Willful, intentional. To me, those are two key words. If you intentionally do something the punishment is severe. If you're not forthright when you're asked a question, the punishment is severe.
"All the sudden you ask a coach, 'Are you using three cell phones? Are you paying a third party money to have them come to your camps?' If they understand if they don't tell you the truth on record, they will be suspended for one year. I think I can speak on behalf of most coaches that they're going to tell the truth.
"If you intentionally commit a violation your suspension could be [for example] three games, six games, nine games. It's up to the committee [on infractions]. Intentionally, that's the key word."
CBSSports.com: Do we need another death penalty to get everyone's attention?
Meyer: "I don't know. I'm not on the inside. I don't know what's hanging out right now. I don't know what's behind Door No. 1 or 2."
CBSSports.com: What about subpoena power for the NCAA in its investigations? Is that something you'd welcome?
"Absolutely. The problem right now the investigation process takes five years, four years. USC can't go to a bowl game. They [current players] were 14 years old, 15 years old when this was going on.
"The two areas that are missing in my mind are fear and lack of knowledge. Fear on the side of the coaches and lack of knowledge on the side of the NCAA. Why not combine the two? Every quarter you have a conference call [with coaches].' What do you hear? What's going on? We hear about these recruiting services or camps or bumps. They put a memo together and send it out. 'This is what we hear is going on. If you get caught here is the punishment.' "
"You won't catch everybody, That's not the goal. You want to stop the behavior."