By Wes Todd
AUBURN, Ala. -- Janiah McKay had a question.
Why was it, the junior point guard asked, that when Auburn set up its famed full-court press and trapped a dribbler near the sideline, a foul would be called on the defense when the ball-handler stepped through the two defenders?
At last Saturday’s SEC Basketball Leadership Council in Birmingham, she got an answer.
“We got to talk to a referee,” McKay said. “They explained to me that your stance can’t be farther than shoulder-width apart, or it’s a blocking foul every time. So I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s good to know, I can come back and tell my teammates that this is what the ref sees.’”
Playing rules and officiating were among numerous topics discussed by McKay and 27 other representatives from women’s and men’s basketball teams around the SEC. Commissioner Greg Sankey was there to hear from the group, as well as other league officials.
“Commissioner Sankey is awesome,” McKay said. “The SEC has changed a lot to accommodate athletes. They really want us to have the best experience. It’s really cool to see that our voices are being heard as players and that (Sankey) really does take into account what he can do for us.”
Players from all 14 league schools were able to share their thoughts on numerous hot topics surrounding college athletics today, most notably time demands on student-athletes and transfer rules. McKay said that it was an eye-opening experience to see that players from other schools were often dealing with the same issues that face her own team.
“I think it’s cool because often we see (players from other teams) from a competitive standpoint,” she said. “You’re out there, your emotions are high, you’re competing and trying to win. But to sit down in a conference room and see that we share a lot of the same problems is amazing in how we can help each other.”
The time demand on student-athletes has been a much-discussed issue in Division I the last several years, and the NCAA took steps to ensure that athletes had a true day off each week beginning this year – one with no meetings, workouts, practices, media interviews, or any other required activity related to athletics. But the grind of a five-month basketball season – not to mention a month of preseason practice plus offseason workouts – still takes its toll on student-athletes, especially considering the academic workload that many of them carry.
Scheduling around final exams and holiday breaks were part of the discussion.
“One of the issues was playing around class and exam time,” McKay said. “There was one player (from another school) that had to miss a whole week of class to go play in a tournament, and the information that was given in class that week was needed for her final exam. She said she didn’t do as well on the exam because she wasn’t there that week of class.
“Other people wanted to spend more time at home at Christmas. Sometimes players have to leave home on Christmas Day or right after (to return to campus). We talked about maybe getting three full days off. It’s technically not a rule yet, but they’re talking about it.”
Auburn will have a longer Christmas break this season with eight days between games after facing shorter breaks the last two years.
The players in attendance also got to hear from speakers in the sports industry. Renee Brown, former WNBA Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations, met with the group to discuss careers in professional sports and WNBA preparedness. And she emphasized to the group that WNBA roster spots were few and far between.
“There are only 144 spots in the league,” McKay said. “There’s 12 teams and 12 players per team. But she talked to us about that there’s other things you can do as a player in athletics after you graduate, administrative positions, etc. She told us to always put our best foot forward, things like having a business card, constantly marketing yourself and being a marketable person. Letting your character and leadership show in everything you do because you never know who’s watching.”
McKay welcomes the opportunity to grow as a team leader – and conferences like the one in Birmingham last week help her to not only be a voice with the conference leadership, but also to be a voice for her team in the locker room.
“The SEC wants to prepare us as well-rounded individuals,” she said. “That’s what the leadership conference promotes the most. I appreciate Coach Flo recognizing me as a leader for this team. I love to represent Auburn, and I love to be the voice for my team.”